NJ Supreme Court finds detectives’ actions proper in Miranda waiver case

Professional Development 

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided to reverse an appellate court’s decision that had provided an ambiguous requirement when detectives are seeking a waiver of a person’s Miranda rights. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded in State v. Anthony Sims, Jr. that the appellate division’s rule requiring officers to tell an arrestee who is not subject to a complaint warrant or arrest warrant what charges he may face before interrogating him “is unwarranted and impractical.”

This case began in April 2014, when police began investigating a shooting incident in Red Bank, where a man was shot 12 times. At the scene, before the victim of the shooting was transported to the hospital, he did not provide any information of investigative value regarding who may have been responsible for shooting him. However, the victim’s grandmother provided information to police at the scene that would assist with their investigation.

Prior to the police arriving at the scene, the victim’s grandmother had run outside after hearing gunshots and hearing her grandson calling out to her for help. She found him bleeding profusely as he partially hung out of the passenger side of his Chevy Camaro, which was parked in her driveway. Notably, she asked her grandson, “Who did this to you?” and he answered, “Sims.” Ultimately, she told police at the scene that her grandson said the shooter was the brother of his friend.

During the victim’s recovery at the hospital, two detectives investigating the incident conducted an interview and obtained a statement from the victim to aid their investigation. Over the course of nearly three hours, the victim provided the detectives with information about the shooting. The victim was described as cooperative during the interview with the detectives. Specific details of the incident were provided by the victim, including the description and name of the shooter. Prior to the end of the interview, the victim identified a photo of the defendant and signed the back, confirming it was Anthony Sims Jr. who had shot him.

One day after the detectives conducted their interview, they located the defendant and advised him he was being placed under arrest. The defendant was handcuffed, searched and then transported to the detectives’ office. At the time of the arrest, the detectives did not advise the defendant why they were arresting him. Between the time of the arrest and the arrival at the office, the defendant asked why he was under arrest, and one of the detectives told him they “would get into the details” when they got to the office. In this case, the defendant was lawfully arrested without a warrant based on the detectives’ probable cause to believe the defendant committed a crime.

Upon arrival at the office, the defendant was brought into an interview room that was equipped with a video recording device. The detectives advised the defendant of his Miranda rights, which he ultimately agreed to waive. This was documented on a Miranda form. The detectives required the defendant to initial each page and sign the form to memorialize that he had waived his right to have his attorney present. The defendant proceeded to answer questions asked by the detectives after the Miranda form was completed.

During the interrogation, the defendant denied having any involvement in the incident. At one point, the defendant denied even knowing anything about the incident but then recalled he had read a newspaper article about the shooting. The defendant also initially denied knowing the victim and anyone in his family, but then said he knew the victim by his first name but did not know his last name. As the interrogation continued, the detectives told the defendant that they had knowledge that he was in Red Bank at the time of the shooting because he was recorded on camera. The defendant continued to deny this and eventually asked if he could make a call from his cell phone. The detectives permitted the defendant to do so and then seized his phone afterward.

Evidence obtained throughout the detailed investigation consisted of surveillance video depicting the incident and multiple witness interviews. Additionally, information and records obtained from the defendant’s cell phone that was seized during the interrogation confirmed he was in Red Bank at or about the time of the shooting. The investigation resulted in a grand jury indictment charging the defendant with attempted murder and various weapons offenses.

In this recent ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court refused to agree with the appellate court in this case to include an officer’s prediction, based on information learned to date in a developing investigation, of what charges may be filed.

Going forward and according to the Supreme Court, “If a complaint-warrant has been filed or an arrest warrant has been issued against a suspect whom law enforcement officers seek to interrogate, the officers must disclose that fact to the interrogee and inform him in a simple declaratory statement of the charges filed against him before any interrogation. … The officers need not speculate about additional charges that may later be brought or the potential amendment of pending charges. …” (emphasis added).