Investigatory and Custodial Questioning (Part 4)

by | Nov 28, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: Pursuant to the facts of this case, a reasonable 17-year-old in defendant’s position would have believed he was in custody and not free to leave, so Miranda warnings were required. It was harmful error to admit his statement at trial. The privilege against self-incrimination is one of the most important protections of the criminal law. Individuals who are “subjected to police interrogation while in custody or otherwise deprived of their freedom of action in any significant way” must be advised of certain rights so as to not offend the right against self-incrimination. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 477-79. Once advised of their Miranda rights, defendants may knowingly and intelligently waive those rights and make a statement or answer law enforcement’s questions. Id. at 479.

If Miranda warnings are required but not given, the unwarned statements must be suppressed. Miranda is triggered only when a person is in custody and subject to questioning by law enforcement. Whether an individual is “in custody” for purposes of administering Miranda warnings is a fact-sensitive inquiry. The inquiry is an objective one, determined by how a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have understood his situation. Juveniles are afforded the same protections of the privilege against self-incrimination as adults.

The trial court focused almost exclusively on what occurred during the interview. The Court’s analysis, however, ends at the moment defendant was placed in the back of a patrol car and transported to the Newark PD, having been told that he could not leave the hospital with his parents. At that moment, looking objectively at the totality of the circumstances, it is difficult to conceive that any reasonable 17-year-old in defendant’s position would have felt free to leave; nor did any subsequent events do anything to lessen that impression.

If this case is re-tried, an interesting issue will concern whether the physical evidence obtained was derived from the Miranda violation. If so, it will be subject to suppression.