Appellate Court Affirms Convictions and Sentence: State v. John Rivera

State of New Jersey v. John Rivera

Docket No. A-3223-20

Decided August 14, 2023

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from his convictions for vehicular homicide, assault by auto, and DWI. In the alternative, defendant contends his sentence was excessive.

In June 2017, defendant caused a rear end collision with another car while under the influence of Xanax. The other vehicle’s driver was tragically killed in the accident and the passenger was seriously injured. This was the second motor vehicle crash the defendant was involved in that day. The first one occurred less than two hours earlier in the same municipality. Defendant’s airbags were deployed during the first crash and officers advised him not to drive his car.

Defendant was hospitalized and administered narcotics for the pain he was in. Defendant had a concussion and a lacerated scalp. Officers at the hospital obtained defendant’s consent to draw blood and urine samples. Defendant was then interviewed regarding the accident. Defendant was not issued Miranda warnings prior to the interview. During the interview, defendant made incriminating statements and consented to a search of his car, including the seizure of his cell phone. His blood and urine test results were positive for benzodiazepines, cannabis, and opiates. There were no drugs located in his car.

Defendant was arrested 18 months later and charged with traffic and criminal offenses. He later moved to suppress physical evidence obtained as a result of the consent searches and his incriminatory statements to law enforcement. Defendant argued that his consent and statements were not voluntarily and knowingly made in view of his medical treatment and injuries, and that he was interrogated in violation of Miranda. The trial judge denied his motions after an evidentiary hearing. Defendant subsequently pled guilty to vehicular homicide, assault by auto, and DWI and preserved his right to appeal the aforementioned motions. Defendant was sentenced to six-year prison term pursuant the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, for the vehicular homicide conviction, and a seven-year suspension of his driving privileges and thirty days of community service. Defendant appealed.

On appeal, defendant reprised the same arguments asserted before the motion judge. In the alternative, he contends his sentence was excessive. Ultimately, the Appellate Court rejected defendant’s arguments and affirmed the trial court’ decision. The court articulated that the totality of the circumstances supported the trial court’s conclusion that defendant’s medical condition did not hamper his ability to voluntarily and knowingly consent to the blood draw and urine sample, and to the search of his car. There was no evidence in the record that would suggest defendant’s scalp injury or the medication he was administered interfered with his ability to understand his rights, or his ability to knowingly and voluntarily waive them. The court also found that defendant’s consent was not rendered involuntary where he initially was unaware that a victim had died in the car accident. The Appellate Court rejected defendant’s attempt to apply Miranda case authority to the consent-to-search voluntariness assessment. The court also rejected defendant’s argument that his police interview was custodial where he was confined to an emergency room hospital bed. The same facts regarding the circumstances of defendant’s questioning supported trial court’s rejection of defendant’s argument that his statement to police was not voluntary in light of his medical condition.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining appealing motions to suppress statements made and physical evidence seized unlawfully. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.



Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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