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State v. Staats

March 27, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
MARK OWEN STAATS, APPELLANT.



Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Whether a suspect is in custody and entitled to the recording requirement of State v. Scales, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice

Affirmed.

OPINION

A jury convicted Mark Owen Staats of the crime of aiding and abetting the first-degree murder of Dustin Jirasek. Staats was sentenced to life in prison. In this direct appeal, Staats contends that the district court erred in admitting into evidence each of the five statements he gave to police, the court's error was not harmless, and consequently his conviction should be reversed. We are asked to determine whether police obtained the first two statements in violation of the recording requirement of State v. Scales, 518 N.W.2d 587 (Minn. 1994), and, if so, whether statements and evidence subsequently obtained should be suppressed under a "fruit of the poisonous tree" analysis. We also consider whether one of the statements was obtained in violation of Staats' right to counsel.

Dustin Jirasek was shot and killed at close range while standing in the doorway of his home on December 16, 2000. Minnetonka police immediately suspected Mike Dahlin. When they spoke to Dahlin, he claimed he was with Mark Owen Staats in another location at the time of the murder. Sergeant Cziok and Officer Petersen of the Minnetonka police department drove to Staats' home to investigate Dahlin's alibi.

Cziok and Petersen arrived at Staats' residence around 5 p.m. on December 18, 2000. They introduced themselves and went inside. Petersen began questioning Staats about his relationship with Dahlin and their whereabouts on the night of the killing. Staats said he was at home until 10:50 p.m. on the night in question and then went to two bars with Dahlin before eventually retiring to Dahlin's house. After speaking to Staats for fifteen or twenty minutes, Petersen gave him a Miranda warning and took a recorded statement, recapping the information Staats had given her.

Toward the end of this recorded statement, Staats' mother arrived at the home. Cziok asked to speak with her in another room. After Cziok and Petersen noticed discrepancies between Staats' description of the events on the night in question and his mother's description, Petersen asked Staats to give a second recorded statement and Staats agreed. Petersen reminded him of his Miranda rights and recorded a second statement, in which Staats admitted that he waited in the truck while Dahlin went up to the house of someone who was "harassing" Dahlin's girlfriend. Staats claimed he heard a loud "bang" as he waited in the truck. The officers then arrested Staats and brought him to the police station.

Over the course of the next four days, while in police custody, Staats gave three more recorded statements to police and made an admission in court.*fn1 His story changed several times as he described his activities on the evening of the murder. Eventually, police discovered that Staats and Dahlin were drinking, and Staats understood that Dahlin wanted to rough up Jirasek. Then Staats accompanied Dahlin to a K-Mart where they allegedly discussed which type of ammunition to purchase, and bought ammunition and stocking caps. Staats contributed change to the purchase when Dahlin came up short of cash. They drove to Jirasek's house, and Staats was present in the doorway when Jirasek was killed. Dahlin and Staats then drove to a wooded area and disposed of the weapon.

The five statements from Staats incriminated himself and Dahlin, and provided police with crucial leads in their investigation. In the suppression hearing, the defense argued that the two interviews at Staats' home were custodial, and because the police did not properly record them under Scales, the statements must be suppressed. Staats then introduced the report of an expert who found fifteen points at which the tape was stopped and restarted during the two statements at Staats' home. Staats testified that during those stoppages he had requested an attorney, and that police had coerced him into making incriminating statements. In addition to arguing that these two statements should have been excluded under Scales, Staats argued that his last statement to police should have been excluded as a violation of his right to counsel.

The district court denied Staats' motion to suppress the five statements after hearing testimony from Staats, his mother, and police officers. The district court acknowledged the seriousness of Staats' contentions, but specifically rejected the testimony of Staats and found it not credible. It found that the first two statements in Staats' home need not comply with the Scales recording requirement because Staats was not in custody when he gave them. The district court also concluded that Staats' fifth statement was properly obtained because he reinitiated contact with the police after invoking his right to counsel. Staats did not testify at trial. The state's evidence against him consisted primarily of Staats' five recorded statements.

I.

We first decide whether Staats was in custody when the police recorded two statements in his home. If he was in custody, the recordings may be suppressed if they do not meet the standards directed by this court in State v. Scales, 518 N.W.2d 587 (Minn. 1994). If the recordings fail the Scales standard, evidence subsequently obtained may also be suppressed under a "fruit of the poisonous tree" analysis. State v. Warndahl, 436 N.W.2d 770 (Minn. 1989); see also Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 487 (1963). The district court found that Staats was not in custody when the police recorded the two statements in his home and therefore the statements were not required to be recorded.

This court makes an independent determination about whether Staats was in custody. State v. Wiernasz, 584 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. 1998). With respect to the facts, however, we review the district court's findings for clear error. State v. Hince, 540 N.W.2d 820, 823 (Minn. 1995). We grant "considerable, but not unlimited, deference to a trial court's fact-specific resolution of such an ...


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