Motion To Suppress a Statement Made to Police While Suffering Serious Wounds and Being Under the Influence of Medication
State of New Jersey v. Rollie Ellis
Docket No. A-3606-19
Decided January 18, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal of the denial of her motion to suppress a statement she made to police about stabbing the victims.
In April 2018, defendant was taken to the emergency room for stab wounds she received as a result of an altercation with the victims at their apartment. The two victims received stab wounds and one of the victims, Jennifer, was pronounced dead. Defendant was already a suspect at this point in time, and detectives went to the hospital to ask her questions regarding the incident. Defendant was only able to provide her name before becoming unresponsive and falling asleep. She was not free to leave the hospital because she was deemed a suspect.
Detectives then questioned the other victim who was severely wounded. He advised that defendant and Jennifer were smoking crack cocaine in the apartment when another man forced his way into their home and started fighting with the defendant before eventually leaving. The victim, Raphy, further advised that defendant then left the apartment for a brief time, but eventually returned with two knives and stabbed him and Jennifer.
Approximately five hours after the conversation with Raphy, detectives attempted to interview the defendant again. She was admitted to the hospital and was wearing a neck brace. The detectives proceeded to wake the defendant up and read her Miranda rights. Defendant was groggy and medicated with morphine and codeine sulfate. Defendant stated she did not wish to speak with the detectives and requested an attorney. The interrogation stopped.
Seven hours later, defendant had not spoken to a lawyer yet. She was sleeping when the same detectives, along with two other officers, entered her hospital room to place her under arrest for murder, attempted murder, and a weapons offense. Defendant became upset and asked to talk to someone, explaining she did not have an attorney. When asked by the detectives if defendant was saying it was her desire to “talk to us,” defendant said yes.
At this point, defendant was once again read her Miranda rights. Defendant waived her rights and gave a statement, saying she had stabbed Raphy and Jennifer in a rage after then man assaulted her. Defendant was subsequently indicted for first degree murder, first degree attempted murder, and third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Defendant filed a motion to suppress her statement to police, which was denied. The court found that defendant understood and voluntarily waived her Miranda rights because she did not appear to be under the influence or to be suffering from a neurological problem based on the body cam recording. The court also found defendant’s confusion appeared to relate to the charges and the events that led up to those charges, rather than her rights. Thus, the court determined that the police did not denigrate her rights. Additionally, the court found defendant did not re-invoke her right to counsel when she asked to “call someone” while being shackled, because there was no indication she wanted to, in fact, speak to a lawyer. Defendant appealed.
On appeal, defendant contended that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant validly waived her rights and gave a statement to the police where she requested counsel, was isolated for hours, expressed confusion about her right to counsel, and made a second, ambiguous request for counsel. Defendant also argued that resentencing is required because the court erred in its analysis of aggravating factors, three, six, and nine and mitigating factor four. The Appellate Court agreed with defendant and ultimately concluded that defendant’s statement to police that she stabbed Jennifer was obtained in violation of her Miranda rights because the police reinitiated conversation with defendant after she previously refused to talk without an attorney and had not done so. The court noted that since defendant did not consult with an attorney, the police were not permitted to reinitiate interrogation to obtain a statement about the incident. Under the totality of circumstances, where defendant was isolated in the hospital, requested counsel, was suffering serious wounds and was under the influence of medication, had been using drugs the night before, and was repeatedly questioned by detectives who tried to question her previously, defendant could not be deemed to have initiated contact with police where she earlier exercised her right not to speak before talking with an attorney. As a result, defendant was entitled to withdraw her guilty plea and the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
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 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.
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