Limited English Miranda Rights Waivers (Part 1)

by | May 12, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Legal Procedures, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On April 1, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Bergen County case of State v. A.M. Justice Solomon wrote for a unanimous Court. The principal issue under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), was whether there was a valid rights waiver by the defendant who spoke limited English.

The Court held in relevant part as follows: Defendant was alone in his apartment with his fourteen-year-old step-grand-daughter, A.I., when he hugged her from behind, touching her breasts and vagina over her bathing suit, and inserted at least one finger into her vagina.  After learning of the incident, A.I.’s mother contacted the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.  Officers went to defendant’s home and transported him to the Bergenfield Police Department.

Because defendant spoke little English and stated that he was more comfortable with Spanish, Detective Richard Ramos assisted in translating the interview from English to Spanish.  The entire interview was video-recorded to a DVD and later transcribed in English by a clerk-typist employed by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

Before the interview, Detective Ramos reviewed with defendant a Spanish language form prepared by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which listed each of defendant’s Miranda rights and contained a waiver paragraph. Detective Ramos read defendant his Miranda rights from the Spanish-language form, pausing after reading each one to ask defendant in Spanish if he understood.  Defendant replied “sí” (yes) each time and initialed each line.  Detective Ramos then handed the form to defendant to review the waiver portion and asked in Spanish, “Do you understand?”  Defendant replied, “Sí,” and Detective Ramos told defendant to sign in two places, which defendant did.

This fact pattern addresses an issue that often reveals itself with Miranda forms. It involves the combination or intertwining of the acknowledgement section of a Miranda waiver form with the waiver section. The combination of these distinct concepts should be a basis for the suppression of the statements, but it is an issue that the New Jersey Supreme Court has yet to decide.