Limited English Miranda Rights Waivers (Part 4)

by | May 18, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Legal Procedures, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Supreme Court continued in relevant part: To ensure that a person subject to custodial interrogation is adequately and effectively apprised of his rights, the United States Supreme Court developed the Miranda warnings. The administration of Miranda warnings ensures that a defendant’s right against self-incrimination is protected in the inherently coercive atmosphere of custodial interrogation. A waiver of a defendant’s Miranda rights must be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary in light of all of the circumstances surrounding the custodial interrogation. In the totality-of-the-circumstances inquiry, courts generally rely on factors such as the suspect’s age, education and intelligence, advice as to constitutional rights, length of detention, whether the questioning was repeated and prolonged in nature and whether physical punishment or mental exhaustion was involved.

The Court reviews the trial court’s factual findings in detail and concludes that the failure of Detective Ramos to read the entire Miranda rights form aloud did not “improperly shift the burden of proof to defendant to alert the interrogating officers about any difficulty he may be having understanding the ramifications of a legal waiver.” To eliminate questions about a suspect’s understanding, the entire Miranda form should be read aloud to a suspect being interrogated, or the suspect should be asked to read the entire form aloud. Where that is not done, the suspect should be asked about his or her literacy and educational background. Nevertheless, in this case, because sufficient credible evidence in the record supports the trial court’s findings, the Court agrees with the trial court that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary express waiver of his Miranda rights. The Court therefore does not reach the issue of implicit waiver.  (pp. 15-18)

The Court notes that this case demonstrates plainly the importance of videotaping custodial interrogations of suspects by police. Any defendant has the right to challenge a translation under N.J.R.E. 104(c), which governs pretrial hearings on the admissibility of a defendant’s statement.  Because a defendant has the right to contest a translation of a custodial interrogation, as was done here, and Rule 104(c) provides the mechanism to do so, the Court rejects the holdings of the Appellate Division’s concurring opinion. That said, the State, as well as the defendant, is best served by the use of a capable translator during an interview. The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed, and defendant’s conviction is reinstated.

The Court’s “best practice” suggestions will likely have the opposite effect on law enforcement. Law enforcement is a competitive enterprise concerned with obtaining convictions once the police have set their sights on a suspect. If the Supreme Court is not going to suppress statements after the police do not follow the “best practices”, the likely result will be that the police seek to gain a tactical advantage by only following the practices required for admissibility.