Young crying criminal in police interrogation room

By: Bob Bianchi, Esq © 2020

At The Bianchi Law Group, LLC our former prosecutors and NJ Supreme Court Certified Criminal Trial Attorneys who now practice criminal defense law often get questions by parents of children who have been charged with offenses by the police and are being prosecuted.

The law on how the police secure statements of juveniles differs from that of an adult in many important ways.

The NJ Supreme Court has issued a new and important ruling in State in the Interest of A.A., on January 15, 2020.  The decision further limits the ability of police officers to secure statements of a minor in New Jersey.

The case involved a 15-year-old boy who was brought into the police station on the suspicion of having shot someone. The minor’s mother was advised by the police to come to police headquarters.  When she arrived, there were 5 police officers withing 10-15 feet from the holding cell where the minor was being detained.

The mother spoke to her son through the holding cell, where police officers were able to hear the conversation.  No Miranda warnings were given to A.A. or his mother. It should be noted, that Miranda warnings are not required, so long as the police do not question, or elicit information from one being held in custody.

A.A. made statements to his mother that the prosecution tried to admit at trial. The defense smartly asked the trial court to ban the statements—arguing the statements violated the Miranda warnings. Conversely, the prosecution argued, and the trial court agreed, that the police did not question A.A, thereby finding that there was no “police interrogation or its functional equivalent.” Hence, the trial court ruled that the police did not need do give A.A or his mother the Miranda warnings.

The NJ Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s ruling and declared the statements made by A.A to his mother were inadmissible at trial, and cannot be used against him at trial.

In making this ruling, the Supreme Court cited a basic axiom to Miranda law.  Specifically, it has been the law for many years that Miranda violations extend beyond the idea of the police merely asking questions.

In other words, the police can illegally illicit statements in violation of Miranda if actions are such that “… the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response” of a person.  In these instances, the police are required to give the Miranda warnings, even though they did not ask a question per se.

Additionally, New Jersey has long recognized that when interviewing a minor, the parent, or legal guardian, of the child should be present during any questioning, unless the parent or guardian refuses to come in, or are “truly unavailable.” NJ law mandates that the police have a duty to make serious attempts to locate the adult before any questioning, or eliciting of a statement of the minor takes place.

In A.A’s case, the NJ Supreme Court found that the police should reasonably have known that A.A would speak to his mother about the alleged offense.  The Court found that the police did not read (hence educate) the mother, or her son, about Miranda and the minor’s right to not give statements against his interests. This is not to mention that they never advised either A.A or his mother that their “private” conversation could be overheard by police and used against the son at trial.

The Court found that the mother should have had a meaningful opportunity to consult with her son about his Miranda rights, not in the presence of other police officer who is an earshot away.

And importantly, the police should “reasonably” have known that A.A. would speak to his mother given the “totality of the circumstances” of this case. Again, this “eliciting” of a response from a suspect has been the law for many years.

Here, the Court reasoned that the police by other means, created a situation where likely incriminating statements would be elicited and that this was improper.

At The Bianchi Law Group, LLC., we have both prosecuted, and now represent juveniles who are the subject of investigations and prosecutions.  If you should ever have a question about this, or any area involving a crime, or criminal offense, we would be happy to have our former prosecutors, and NJ Supreme Court Certified Criminal Trial Attorneys assist you.