Review of State vs. R.P. by New Jersey Criminal Attorney, Jeffrey Hark
The subject matter at issue in the knowing and voluntariness of a defendant’s video and audio statement that is being offered at the time of trial. In every case the court MUST conduct a Rule 104 hearing to determine if, at the time the statement was made, was the statement give by the defendant a Knowing and voluntary waiver of one’s MIRANDA rights. The case law is clear on this point. The court in State vs. R.P. decided this week stated: “A statement of a criminal defendant is not generally excluded as hearsay but “[i]n a criminal proceeding, the admissibility of a defendant’s statement which is offered against the defendant is subject to Rule 104(c).” N.J.R.E. 803(b).” In this case defendant claims that his confession was false because it was made in a stressful and inherently coercive situation. The “trustworthiness of [a] confession [is] a prerequisite to [its] use.” State v. Cook, 179 N.J. 533, 560 (2004). If a confession is obtained through compulsion or coercion, it is considered unreliable, ibid. (citing State v. Jordan, 147 N.J. 409, 425-28 (1997)), and may not be admitted against a defendant because to do so “‘would offend the community’s sense of decency and fairness.'” Ibid. (quoting State v. Kelly, 61 N.J. 283, 292 (1972)). To be admissible into evidence, the State must show beyond a reasonable doubt that a confession was made voluntarily. State v. Gore, 205 N.J. 363, 382 (2011); Cook, supra, 179 N.J. at 562. “Voluntariness of a confession or other inculpatory statement by an accused must always be established by the State at an N.J.R.E. 104(c) hearing before it can be introduced into evidence at trial.” Biunno, Weissbard & Zegas, Current N.J. Rules of Evidence, comment 6 on N.J.R.E. 104 (2013) (citing, among other cases, State v. Miller, 76 N.J. 392, 404-05 (1978)). Moreover, “[t]o leave determination of the issue solely to the jury [is] a cession of the trial court’s gatekeeping responsibility.” State v. Marczak, 344 N.J. Super. 388, 397 (App. Div. 2001), certif. denied, 171 N.J. 44 (2002). Although defendant did not request a Rule 104 hearing prior to the admission of his confession, we view the failure to conduct a hearing in this case to be plain error. First, we do not agree with the State that the evidence against defendant was “overwhelming,” and we cannot conclude that the failure to conduct a hearing was of no moment. See State v. McCloskey, 90 N.J. 18, 30 (1982) (noting that “‘errors which impact substantially and directly on fundamental procedural safeguards . . . are not amenable to harmless error rehabilitation'” (quoting State v. Czachor, 82 N.J. 392, 404 (1980))). Second, introduction into evidence of defendant’s inculpatory statement, if it was indeed involuntary and thus inadmissible, was “clearly capable of producing an unjust result[.]” R. 2:10-2. “The possibility of an unjust result must be ‘sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether the error led the jury to a result it otherwise might not have reached.'” State v. Williams, 168 N.J. 323, 336 (2001) (quoting State v. Macon, 57 N.J. 325, 336 (1971)).
THEREFORE, THE FACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DATE, TIME, AND LOCATION, DRUGS INVOLVED, PRESSURE APPLIED AT THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE, AND OTHER ISSUES PRESENT AT THE TIME A STATEMENT WAS PROVIDED BECOME RELEVANT, AND MUST BE ADDRESSED IN EVERY CASE WHERE THERE IS A STATEMENT PROVIDED AND A TRIAL IS GOING TO TAKE PLACE!!!!!