Defendant Challenges the Introduction of Inculpatory Statements Made to Detectives During a Custodial Interrogation
Docket No. A-31-21
Decided November 16, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent published opinion, the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal challenging the introduction of inculpatory statements he made to detectives during a custodial interrogation.
In September 2016, an officer responded to a call for a gunshot victim and found a man unresponsive and bleeding from the torso. The man would later die from his wounds. Officers then recovered video of the shooting the next day from a nearby surveillance camera. The footage showed a man exit a dark colored vehicle next to the victim’s car and shoot the victim several times before fleeing.
An officer conducting an unrelated operation for the Auto Theft Task Force had a Communication Data Warrant for a dark colored Audi like the car in the shooting and decided to check on the vehicle he was monitoring after hearing a dark colored Audi was involved in a shooting. The GPS data placed the suspect vehicle at the scene of the murder and then at a nearby address where the car remained for seven hours. The vehicle’s data placed the car at a liquor store for approximately two hours as well the night of the murder. Surveillance from the store shows two men walking away from the suspect vehicle and enter the store. Although the footage did not show the two enter or exit the suspect vehicle, their clothing and appearances matched those of the driver and passenger shown in surveillance footage from near the murder scene. A detective viewing the footage identified the defendant as the driver of the vehicle from prior interactions.
The next day, officers saw defendant standing outside a convenience store. They approached with their guns drawn, identified themselves as police officers, handcuffed defendant and advised him he was under arrest. He was then brought to police headquarters for questioning. At headquarters, detectives Mirandized defendant which defendant verbally affirmed his understanding of and signed a Miranda form demonstrating that he understood his rights. As the detective began reading the defendant the waiver-of-rights section out loud, defendant stated, “I got a lawyer, though.” After a brief exchange, the detective asked defendant if he wanted a lawyer, and defendant stated, “I got a lawyer . . . Let me talk to him.” After another brief exchange, the detective then asked defendant again if he was verbally agreeing to speak to them, and he stated, “Yeah. I’m a man.” The detective continued with the questioning and asked the defendant about his whereabouts on the night of the shooting. Defendant admitted to being at the liquor store on the night of the murder and indicated he was there until around 2:00 a.m. on the night in question. After the detectives explained to the defendant that there was additional footage that placed him at different locations throughout the night and connected him to the stolen suspect vehicle, defendant stated, “Now I need to call my lawyer. This just got bad.” The detectives ended the interview and formally charged and booked defendant.
After being indicted, the State moved to admit defendant’s statements from the interrogation, and the court conducted a hearing to determine their admissibility. The court determined that the statements were admissible and found that defendant’s age and experiences with the justice system, combined with the detectives’ clear administration of Miranda warnings and the lack of coercion, supported a finding that defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights. Defendant subsequently appealed.
On appeal, defendant contended that his statements should have been suppressed because he did not validly waive his Miranda rights because the police never informed him of the charges he was facing, and lied to him by stating that he was not under arrest. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial courts ruling, finding no error in admitting defendant’s statements. Because defendant had not yet been charged and no warrant had been issued at the time of the interrogation, the Appellate Court stated that this case was akin to a situation where police were not required to tell an interrogee that he is a suspect for Miranda purposes and that the totality of the circumstances “screamed out” that defendant was a suspect in the investigation. The Appellate Court also concluded that defendant never exercised his right to remain silent, his right to speak to an attorney, or his right to have an attorney present during questioning at any point during the interview. Thus, the defendant had knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. The Supreme Court of New Jersey than granted certiorari limited to just the issue of whether defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.
Defendant now argued that the detectives violated his privilege against self-incrimination by continuing the interrogation after he invoked his right to counsel. He argues that his statement, “I got a lawyer. . . Let me talk to him,” was an invocation of the right to counsel. Although the State conceded that defendant invoked his right to counsel and that the detectives should have ended the interrogation as soon as he did so, this error was harmless since the jury would hear the same evidence that was obtained through the interrogation through the rest of the State’s case. The Supreme Court of New Jersey disagreed with the State’s notion that the error was harmless and reversed the Appellate Court and Trial Courts’ rulings. The Court found that counsel was not made available, and police continued the interrogation until defendant inculpated himself. Since those statements were obtained in violation of Miranda, they were subject to suppression. The Supreme Court concluded that only a new trial, one untainted by defendant’s unlawfully obtained admissions, can rectify the detectives’ failure to honor defendant’s Miranda rights.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to motions to suppress statements obtained in violation of Miranda. 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.
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