Miranda and Breaks In Custody (Part 4)

by | Mar 13, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued: Here, approximately three minutes after they knew Wint had unequivocally requested counsel, the two Pennsylvania detectives entered the Camden County interrogation room to question Wint about the Pennsylvania murder charge. That was a clear violation of Edwards. The record does not support the trial court’s finding that Wint initiated a conversation with the Pennsylvania detectives in which Wint agreed to speak with them at some later time without counsel. Wint remained in continuous pre-indictment, pretrial custody in the Camden County jail when he was transported to a police station in Pennsylvania where the same detectives interrogated him again without providing him with counsel. Wint did not experience a break in custody within the intendment of Shatzer before he was interrogated without counsel in Pennsylvania, and therefore the Edwards presumption of involuntariness applies to the admission Wint made to the detectives. For break-in-custody purposes, Shatzer distinguished the very different worlds and circumstances of a pretrial detainee and a convicted inmate. When a pretrial detainee is released into the free world, he experiences a break in custody.  Id. at 110. As Shatzer explained, convicted inmates stand in a very different position because their world is prison. Id. at 113. Wint’s return to his preindictment, pretrial custody in the Camden County jail after two interrogations during which he invoked his right to counsel was not a return to normalcy.

Because the detectives initiated the interrogation and did not provide counsel to Wint, Edwards requires suppression of the incriminating statement made to the detectives concerning the shooting in Camden.  The admission of Wint’s statement — “I committed a murder in Camden” — was not harmless error and was clearly capable of causing an unjust result. Wint is therefore entitled to a new trial in the homicide case. Because the erroneous admission of the statement was not relevant to Wint’s other convictions, those stand. At a new trial, the State may not admit as substantive evidence Wint’s statement. The Court does not address arguments about the prosecutor’s summation, and it rejects Wint’s argument that the trial court improperly dismissed two jurors.

The appellate division ruling was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial. The Court’s ruling that Wint’s statement cannot be used as substantive evidence leaves open the possibility that it can be used as impeachment evidence. That means that if the defendant testifies to something that is inconsistent with his suppressed statements, those statements can by unsuppressed and used against him.

A related and unaddressed issue is if the distinction between pretrial detainees and convicts would apply in the case of a detainee that is released for a very short time and then re-arrested. Precedent says 14 days of release is enough time to create a meaningful distinction. It is unclear how many days would be too little.