Recent changes that impact our profession

Professional Development

By Ed Esposito

During the past several weeks, there have been a few important changes to our attorney general’s policies, case law decisions and criminal statutes. This article contains a brief summary of these changes that have a potential impact on our profession.

NJ Supreme Court grants a stay in Miranda case

In February, I wrote about an appellate division decision that impacted police interrogations and advising a suspect of charges that may be filed against them. At that time, I reported on the court’s decision in State v. Sims, which held that where probable cause exists to charge a suspect with a criminal offense, even though formal charges have not yet been filed, officers must inform the suspect that they may be charged and must provide the offense(s) that can be charged, prior to conducting an interrogation.

Since that decision was published, the state filed for a stay of the Appellate Court’s decision, and they were seeking to have the case reviewed by the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The state’s request for a stay of the lower court’s decision was granted, and the New Jersey Supreme Court will be reviewing the decision in this matter.

While officers must still rely on their agency’s legal advisors, the ultimate outcome in this case and its impact on interrogations and Miranda waivers by suspects will be decided by our state’s highest court in the future. Given the current stay, officers are no longer bound by the appellate decision, and they do not have to advise a suspect that they can be charged with criminal offenses where there is probable cause to charge but when no charges have been formally filed.

AG directive protecting tenants from illegal evictions

On March 30, the New Jersey attorney general issued a directive protecting tenants from illegal evictions. This directive was in response to the increased number of complaints and unlawful actions by landlords since the eviction moratorium has been in place as a result of the COVID pandemic. The law regarding unlawful evictions and the role of law enforcement in preventing illegal evictions dates back to 2006, when 2C:33-11.1 was signed into law. The new directive also supersedes the former AG policy from 2009 concerning the unlawful eviction law. Under 2C:33-11.1, a person who has been warned commits an offense if they engage in specific conduct by unlawfully evicting a tenant, including the use of violence, the changing of locks or the shutting off of utilities. A person who is warned also commits an offense if they refuse to restore immediately an occupant who was displaced unlawfully. It is important to note that this statute also places specific requirements to be followed by law enforcement officers, which are not usually contained in other laws. The new directive contains a four-step process that officers are required to follow when responding to a report of an illegal eviction:

Step 1: When officers arrive at the scene, they should attempt to determine the basic facts regarding the eviction or threatened eviction.

Step 2: If the officers identify potential violations of 2C:33-11.1, they should promptly issue warnings to the responsible parties.

Step 3: If the officers determine that a tenant was evicted illegally, they should ensure that the tenant is immediately restored to their residence.

Step 4: If the warned individuals refuse to comply with requirements of 2C:33-11.1, the officers should promptly charge those individuals by complaint-summons.

Revisions to cannabis law for individuals under the age of 21

As originally written, P.L.2021, c.25 prohibited notification to a parent, guardian or other person having custody in the case of a minor’s first violation. That law was recently revised through the passage of P.L.2021, c.38, which is effective as of March 26, 2021. The revised law provides that if a person under the age of 18 violates the law by possessing or consuming alcohol, cannabis, marijuana or hashish and receives a written warning from a law enforcement officer for a first offense, the law enforcement officer would also be required to provide a written notice to the parent or guardian of the minor. The revised law also states that a law enforcement officer providing a written warning to a person under the age of 18 would not transport the person to a police station or other law enforcement location. The following process is now in place:

First offense: Officers shall issue a written warning, which must include the person’s name, address and date of birth. If the violation is by a person under age 18, a written notification concerning the violation shall also be provided to the individual’s parent or guardian.

Second offense: Officers shall issue a written warning and also provide the person with informational materials on community drug treatment services. For individuals under the age of 18, the officer shall provide the individual’s parent or guardian with a copy of the written warning.

Third or subsequent offense: Officers shall issue a written warning and again provide the individual with information on community drug treatment services. If the individual is between 18 and 21, then the officer shall provide notice of the written warning to the community drug treatment program; if the individual is under 18, then the officer shall again provide the juvenile’s parents or guardian with a copy of the written warning.