NJ v. Christopher Diantonio – Appeal of Denial of Suppression

State of New Jersey v. Christopher Diantonio

Docket No. A-1083-22

Decided March 25, 2024

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from an order denying his motion to suppress statements he had given to police.

On August 12, 2020, defendant arrived at a hospital after receiving a gunshot wound to his lower right leg. Hospital staff subsequently notified police and several officers later arrived to investigate. All questioning of defendant occurred while he was in the emergency room.

The first officer questioned for approximately twenty minutes. The officer later testified that he considered defendant to be a victim of a shooting and, therefore, did not give him Miranda warnings. The officer asked the defendant to tell him what happened. Defendant recounted a detailed version of events from his perspective. However, defendant was unclear when questioned about where the shooting took place. At some point during or shortly after the first segment of questioning, the officer also learned that hospital personnel had found marijuana and heroin on defendant’s body and in his clothing.

Fifteen minutes after the first interview of defendant concluded, defendant was questioned again. The first officer and another officer now questioned defendant for approximately twenty-five minutes. Defendant was not read his Miranda warnings. The second officer testified at the suppression hearing that he considered defendant to be a victim too at that time.

The third segment of questioning was conducted approximately fifteen minutes after the second segment and lasted approximately twenty-five minutes. Three officers were present. Again, defendant was not read his Miranda warnings. The third officer, who is in charge of the Violent Crimes Unit, testified at the suppression hearing that he did not give Miranda warnings because he did not intend to arrest the defendant, but just question him about the shooting. When the third officer pressed the defendant for the location of the shooting, he said he was shot in the back of the Quality Inn. The officer’s questioning then shifted. He told defendant that he knew about gunshot wounds and he also told defendant that he knew that he had had drugs on him when he came to the hospital. The officer explained to defendant that he would probably be charged with possession of the drugs, and the prosecutor’s office and judge would decide what happened concerning the drug charges. At the suppression hearing, the officer did acknowledge that if he had questioned defendant about the drugs, he knew he had to give him Miranda warnings. After the officers finished questioning the defendant, he was charged that same day with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and drug-related offenses.

After considering the arguments of counsel, the trial judge denied defendant’s motion to suppress his statements and determined that all parts of his statements were admissible. The trial judge stated that she found that defendant was always in custody during the questioning because he was wounded and could not move from his hospital bed. The judge found that during the first and second segments of questioning, the detectives were asking defendant questions and viewed him as a victim. Therefore, the judge reasoned that defendant was not a suspect during these segments, so the officers did not need to give defendant Miranda warnings. In analyzing the third segment of questioning, the judge found that the officers believed defendant was lying and that his wound was either self-inflicted or the shot was fired by someone standing close to defendant. The judge then found that defendant confessed to shooting himself after more questioning from the third officer and held that the third segment of questioning was lawful under the public safety exception. Defendant appealed.

On appeal, defendant contended that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated because the detectives and sergeant who questioned him for over an hour never gave him Miranda warnings. He argued that he was interrogated over the course of seventy-two minutes while in custody, in violation of Miranda. ‘Custodial interrogation’ is defined as ‘questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his [or her] freedom of action in any significant way.'” State v. Tiwana, 256 N.J. 33, 41 (2023) (quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966)). Defendant also argued that the public safety exception is inapplicable with the facts of this case and the trial court misunderstood and misapplied the essential elements required to trigger the exception. The public safety exception applies in “limited circumstances” and allows law enforcement personnel not to give warnings when there is an “objectively reasonable need to protect the police or the public from any immediate danger associated with [a] weapon.”  O’Neal, 190 N.J. at 618 (quoting Quarles, 467 U.S. at 659 n.8). To establish that the exception applies, the “State must generally demonstrate ‘(1) there was an objectively reasonable need to protect the police or the public; (2) from an immediate danger; (3) associated with a weapon; and that (4) the questions asked were related to that danger and reasonably necessary to secure public safety.'” State v. Stephenson, 350 N.J. Super. 517, 525 (App. Div. 2002) (quoting State v. Prim, 730 N.E.2d 455, 463 (Ohio Ct. App. 1999)).

Ultimately, the appellate court determined that the first and second segments of defendant’s statements were admissible, but that the third segment is only admissible up to the point where the third officer tells defendant that his story is “bullshit.” The court articulated that at that time, defendant was to be read his Miranda warnings and was not. Thus all statements, questions, and answers thereafter are suppressed. The court stated that an objective review of the questioning reveals that thereafter, the third officer was seeking to elicit an admission from defendant that he shot himself and he did not focus his questioning on locating the firearm. As a result, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order denying defendant’s motion to suppress his statements.

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 made 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.

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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