Reversed Defendant’s Conviction Following His Plea of Guilty to the Rape and Murder of A.S

State of New Jersey v. Andreas Erazo

Docket No. A-16-22

Decided June 21, 2023

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent published opinion, the Supreme Court of New Jersey was tasked with determining whether the Appellate Division properly reversed defendant’s conviction following his plea of guilty to the rape and murder of A.S.

In July 2017, an 11-year-old girl, A.S., disappeared. Her mother called the local police department and reported the young girl missing. Officers responded and eventually knocked on defendant’s door, near where A.S.’s brother saw her earlier in the day. When questioned about the juvenile’s whereabouts, defendant denied having seen her that evening and permitted the officers to enter his apartment to look for her. Officers found nothing suspicious at that time. Early the next morning, police returned to defendant’s residence to conduct a second search, which was also unfruitful. Approximately five and a half hours later, police discovered A.S.’s body on the roof of a shed behind the apartment building, below a window of defendant’s apartment.

Officers asked defendant to come with them to the police station to provide a witness statement. Due to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, police were temporarily housed in a two-story converted church. When at the converted church, defendant sat unrestrained along with others in a makeshift lobby separated from the rest of the station by a barrier. Civilians need to be escorted by an officer or employee to go beyond the barrier.

Two detectives met with the defendant in the lobby, and told him that they wanted to talk to him but needed to find a place to do so. After approximately 20 minutes, defendant was escorted to the only available interview room located on the second floor. The room was not equipped with audio or video recording equipment. Without first being advised of his Miranda warnings, defendant stated that he knew there was a missing persons investigation and agreed to provide any information he had that could help. Over the course of the nearly 90-minute interview, defendant explained what he knew of and when he had last seen A.S., as well as his activities that day. The detectives asked the defendant if he needed food, water, or a bathroom break, but defendant only asked to smoke a cigarette. Defendant was left alone, unrestrained, in the interview room with the door unlocked. After the detectives left the interview room, they were advised that a neighbor saw someone matching A.S.’s description enter apartment 16A with someone matching defendant’s description on the day A.S. disappeared.

At this point in time, the detectives now considered the defendant to be a suspect and attempted to move him to the first-floor interview room. This room had audio and video recording capabilities, to question him about the neighbor’s statements. Defendant was provided food, water and another two cigarette breaks outside. Officers did not restrain the defendant or discuss the investigation with him between the interview on the second floor and the recorded interview on the first floor. Defendant waited unrestrained in the unlocked first floor interview room while detectives discussed the matter with other investigators and continued to collect information. Approximately five hours after defendant’s interview on the second floor concluded, the detectives commenced interrogating defendant about the instant case. He was provided his Miranda warnings before the second interview took place.

During the interview, defendant continued to offer theories to explain the evidence against him, but eventually confessed. Detectives then asked defendant for a DNA sample, and he responded that he would like to talk to his lawyer. The detectives stopped all questioning at that point and arrested defendant, who was later indicted on seven counts.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress he statements he made to the detectives in the first and second interviews. The trial court denied defendant’s motion, articulating that that defendant was not in custody at the time of the first interview and that Miranda warnings were therefore not required. The trial court also found, based on the detective’s credible testimony and the video of the second interview, that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s Miranda waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, and that his confession should be admitted at trial. Defendant pled guilty to murder and aggravated sexual assault of a victim under the age of thirteen. Defendant subsequently appealed his conviction.

On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed finding that defendant’s statements from both interviews should have been suppressed because the defendant’s confession, obtained during a second interview, five hours after his initial 90-minute interview, was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary, and should have been suppressed. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certiorari.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed the Appellate Court’s decision, holding that defendant voluntarily went to the police station to give a witness statement. At the police station, defendant was interviewed twice. During his first interview, defendant was not in custody and thus not yet owed Miranda warnings. The factors set forth in O’Neill therefore do not need to be considered to assess the admissibility of the second interview. And before police interviewed defendant the second time, they properly administered Miranda warnings. With his rights in mind, defendant executed a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver. During his second interview, defendant confessed. Neither the Fifth Amendment nor state common law calls for suppression of defendant’s statements.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining 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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