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Miranda Rights in New Jersey

In September 2010, NJ.com reported that the New Jersey Supreme Court heard a case involving Miranda rights in a 2007 Newark slaying. The accused killer told a Newark police detective he felt like he was “signing my life away” and asked if he needed a lawyer present when questioned.

A detective read the accused killer his Miranda rights and the accused killer signed a statement waiving them, according to court records. The accused killer confessed to shooting Newark resident in a parking lot of the Bradley Court public housing complex on September 2, 2007. At trial, a judge suppressed the confession, but an appeals court said it was properly obtained after the accused killer waived his right to an attorney.

In New Jersey, statements made during custodial interrogation are inadmissible unless preceded by Miranda warnings. The giving of Miranda rights protects people from custodial interrogation by the police. It is required that all arrestees be given Miranda warnings and if they are invoked they must be honored. Miranda warnings are necessary only if the defendant knows he is interrogated by a government agent.

Custody exists where a person is not free to leave. When a police officer arrests someone in New Jersey, the person is in custody. Interrogation exists where the officer makes statements or engages in conduct which is likely to elicit an incriminating response from a person held in custody. For example, hypothetically, Dan, an arrested gang member in prison, receives a visitor who identifies himself as Sid, a member of the Blues, a rival gang. Sid says the Blues want to help Dan and hire Dan a lawyer. Sid says the lawyer wants Dan to tell Sid how a killing occurred so the lawyer can help Dan. Dan tells Sid he shot a man to end some harassment. Dan later learns Sid is actually a police informant, instructed by the police to try to get information from Dan. In this example, the court weigh the fact that Dan does not know Sid is a police informant against Sid’s deceptive behavior in eliciting an incriminating response from Dan. Since Dan does not know Sid is a police informant, the coercion factor is not as high as if he is interrogated by the police. Dan has a choice not to speak with Sid. Admission of Dan’s statements in a trial may not violate his Miranda rights.

In New Jersey, an incriminating response is any response that the prosecution may seek to introduce at trial. State v. Ward, 240 N.J. Super. 412, 418 (App. Div. 1990). If a criminal defendant has not been interrogated, and instead makes a spontaneous and voluntary statement, the statement is admissible against the defendant provided the statement is not the product of enticement, encouragement, solicitation or non-verbal investigative techniques designed to elicit a response.

Once arrested, police intimidation and the complex legal system can be frightening. A criminal defendant needs an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure rights are not violated.

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