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Janusiak v. Cooper

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 22, 2019

Jeanette M. Janusiak, Petitioner-Appellant,
Sarah Cooper, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued July 9, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 17-CV-514 - William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

          Before Kanne, Hamilton, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.


         After an infant died in the care of petitioner Jeanette Janusiak, a Wisconsin jury found her guilty of first-degree intentional homicide. On direct appeal, state courts rejected her argument that statements she made during an interrogation were involuntary and should have been suppressed. Janusiak then asserted that argument in federal court in her petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court denied relief. We affirm.

         On appeal, Janusiak contends her statements were coerced by (1) comments that law enforcement made to her about keeping access to her children, (2) the length and other features of the interrogation, and (3) her vulnerability as a pregnant woman and mother. We affirm because the state appellate court reasonably applied the correct standard to determine that Janusiak's statements were voluntary.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The facts about Janusiak's case are drawn from the state-court record. Janusiak called 911 to report that Payten Shearer, a friend's baby in her care, was not breathing. Paramedics took Payten to the hospital while officers talked to Janusiak. The police returned about eight hours later, and Janusiak, then eight months pregnant, agreed to go to the police station for an interview. Police questioned her about Payten's death for about seven hours. Toward the end of the interrogation, Janusiak made statements about what happened to Payten that were used to impeach her testimony at trial. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals court described the interrogation as follows:

It is undisputed that, during the interview with the officers that she now challenges, Janusiak initially repeated the same account that she had given to police after they responded to a 9-1-1 call made by Janusiak. This initial account was that, after she had put the baby on a bed in a bedroom, Janusiak fell asleep in the living room, was awakened by a "choking, gurgley noise," and when she went into the bedroom she found that the baby was not breathing and she called 9-1-1. Janusiak said that she was not aware of any problem with the baby before she was awakened by the sounds.
However, as the interview that Janusiak now challenges progressed, Janusiak's account changed markedly from the initial claim that she had no knowledge of how the baby had been injured. Janusiak at one point said, "She [the baby] fell off my bed, it was off my bed." Later, Janusiak said, "She hit the table." Later, Janusiak said, "She went down, she hit the table, there's a little shelf opening in the table and she hit that. And then she fell and then she (unintelligible). And then I grabbed her." Later still, Janusiak said, "I set her down on the bed, she fell off the bed.... It was the table. She hit, she hit the table." Throughout the remainder of the interview, Janusiak remained insistent that this last account was accurate, rejecting the police officers' position that the baby's injuries could not have occurred in the manner that Janusiak described, given the medical evidence as the officers understood it.

State v. Janusiak, 876 N.W.2d 178, 367 Wis.2d 349, ¶¶ 3-6 (Wis. App. 2016) (footnote omitted).

         Janusiak was charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Before trial, she moved to suppress a video recording of the interrogation. The trial court denied the motion, and the recording was shown to the jury to undermine her credibility with her inconsistent story.

         The state appellate court described the testimony received at the suppression hearing and the trial court's ruling on Janusiak's motion:

At the hearing on voluntariness, Janusiak did not testify. The officers who conducted the interview testified to facts that included the following. Janusiak was cooperative and willing to go to the police station for the interview. Janusiak was not in handcuffs either prior to entering the interview room or during the interview. The entire interview was recorded. Janusiak was read, understood, and waived her Miranda rights. The officers provided Janusiak with soda and with "at least three" breaks during the interview, which Janusiak used to smoke or to use the restroom. Janusiak appeared to understand the interview questions and did not appear to be tired.
Based on this testimony and a viewing of the recording of the interview, the circuit court determined that the statements were made voluntarily. The court noted that the interview session was lengthy (approximately seven hours including breaks), but found that Janusiak "did not appear to be over tired or unable to exercise her free will during the interview." The court found that there were "at least a couple" breaks in the questioning and that the officers offered Janusiak food and drink during the interview. Addressing Janusiak's arguments that the officers coerced her statements by promising her that she would return home to her children and would not go to jail if she cooperated, the court found that "the officers were confrontational about her explanation for the victim's injuries which they believe did not match what they were being provided by medical professionals." However, the court also found that nothing that the officers did or said "rose to the level of coercive police conduct." The court ultimately concluded that the statements "were voluntary under the totality of the circumstances/' because police did not use "improper ... practices or coercion" "to obtain the statements."

Janusiak, 367 Wis.2d 349, ¶¶ 3-6 (footnote omitted). We have viewed and compared the video with the transcript. The state appellate court's description and the transcript are materially consistent with the video.

         Besides using Janusiak's inconsistencies from the interrogation to undermine her credibility, the State relied heavily on testimony from medical experts that implicated Janusiak. A radiologist testified that Pay ten's skull was fractured in three places and that a fall from a bed would be unlikely to cause those injuries. A pediatrician specializing in child abuse testified that Payten had bruising on her chest and back in a pattern resembling an adult hand, and that these injuries, among others (such as detached retinas), had occurred shortly before the paramedics started treating Payten. The pediatrician also concluded that Payten had been sodomized with an object and had suffered "definite abusive head trauma, child physical abuse that led to [her] demise." The experts relied on the facts that Janusiak was Payten's primary caregiver for the three days preceding Pay ten's injuries and was, according to Janusiak herself, the only adult in the home the night that she called 911. The State also introduced evidence that Payten's blood was found on a wall of the bedroom, on the bed, and on a washcloth stuffed under the mattress.

         Janusiak's defense focused on testimony from her and her medical expert. She insisted that she never hit or sodomized Payten and that Payten had not fallen off a bed. She said that she changed her story during the interrogation only because the officers "scared me, and they told me, basically the truth wasn't enough, so if I knew what happened to Payten, and an accident happened, then I can go home to my children." She described her physical condition during the interrogation as "very far along in pregnancy and physically exhausted." Her medical expert testified that the iron content of Payten's blood, the "healing characteristics" of Payten's head, and delay between injury and symptoms in some infants suggested that Payten's injuries were inflicted "a few days prior to Pay-ten's collapse."

         The jury found Janusiak guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, and she was sentenced to life in prison. In her direct appeal in state court, she argued that her statements during the interrogation were coerced in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. She gave three reasons: First, the officers and a social worker threatened to separate her from her children if she did not satisfy them, a tactic that she said was barred by Lynumn v. Illinois, 372 U.S. 528 (1963). Lynumn overturned a conviction for unlawful marijuana use that was based in part on a confession that the police obtained by threatening Lynumn that unless she "cooperated," they would take her children from her and stop the state's financial aid to the children. Second, the threats, the length of the interrogation, her pregnancy, and the officers' promises to let her see her children if she cooperated, combined to create an unduly coercive atmosphere for any defendant. Third, she was particularly vulnerable to coercion because of her pregnancy and status as a mother of four young children.

         The appellate court affirmed for several reasons. It first determined Janusiak was not "particularly vulnerable to police pressures and tactics." Janusiak, 367 Wis.2d 349, ¶ 15. The court cited her age of 24, high-school education, five prior experiences with the police, calm demeanor ("she had ceased crying and was calm by the time the officers began to question her"), absence of exhaustion, and officers' repeated offers of breaks, food, and drink. ¶¶ 9, 13, 15. The court noted that "[a]dvanced pregnancy might be a contributing factor if combined with other pertinent facts ..., but Janusiak fails to point to any such pertinent facts." ¶ 15.

         In addition, the circumstances of the interrogation were not unduly coercive. First, Janusiak had "clearly and voluntarily waived" the rights established in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), for her "lengthy" custodial questioning. 367 Wis.2d 349, ¶ 17. Second, the officers did not threaten or use violence or intimidation. Id. Third, the officers "were generally attentive to Janusiak's personal needs and did not appear to take advantage of her emotional state when she cried in their presence." Id. Fourth, Janusiak did not ask to stop the interview and even asked "to continue talking when the officers said it was time to end the interview." Id., ¶ 19. The court explained that those facts, plus its review of the interrogation video, did not make this one of the "rare" cases where the police gave Miranda warnings but the suspect's statements should still be deemed to have been coerced. ¶ 18.

         Next, the court addressed Janusiak's argument that, in violation of the principle of Lynumn, she was "threatened" with losing her children unless she acknowledged her guilt. Ja-nusiak, 367 Wis.2d 349. ¶ 21. The court focused first on the statements of the social worker, Hazel Coppernoll:

Coppernoll was present during the questioning for fewer than ten minutes of the seven-hour interview period. Coppernoll informed Janusiak that she was "not taking [Janusiak's children] into custody," but that Coppernoll was concerned for Janusiak's children if it turned out that the baby had been injured in Janusiak's home. Coppernoll also suggested, before leaving the interview room, that Janusiak "be as cooperative as [Janusiak] possibly can." ... [T]hat statement came nearly six minutes after Coppernoll informed Janusiak that she was not taking her children into custody. Moreover, it came on the heels of Coppernoll telling Janusiak, in a ...

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