In a significant new case, State v. Sims, 250 N.J. 189, 213 (2022) (emphasis added), the New Jersey Supreme Court held, in part, that when “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, however, “speculate about additional charges that may later be brought or the potential amendment of pending charges.”  Id. at 214.

In Sims, P.V. was struck by twelve bullets while sitting in a car in his grandmother’s driveway.  P.V.’s grandmother heard the shots, ran outside, found her grandson bleeding profusely, and asked him, “Who did this to you?”  Id. at 198.  P.V. answered, “Sims,” and when pressed he explained that Sims was the brother of a man the grandmother knew.  Ibid.   The police were not able to speak to P.V. for four days after the shooting as a result of his extensive injuries.  Ibid.   Thereafter, in a statement to the police, P.V. identified defendant Sims as the shooter, although he subsequently said he could not recall the statement.  Id. at 198-99.

On the following day, prior to the issuance of a complaint or warrant or the filing of formal charges, the officers arrested defendant.  Id. at 199.  Defendant asked the officers “why he was being placed under arrest,” and they responded that they “would get into the details” when they reached the prosecutor’s office.  Ibid.  Upon arrival, the officers read defendant his Miranda rights, and during the recorded statement, defendant asked “[s]o I’m under arrest or something?”  Ibid.  The officer responded, “[y]ou are under arrest yes.  I’m sure you have a ton of questions. I’ll be happy to get into all that, okay, in just a few minutes. Let’s just finish this form.”  Ibid.  Defendant then acknowledged and waived his Miranda rights and gave a lengthy statement.  Ibid.

Defendant moved to suppress his statement, but not based on the failure to inform him of the reason for his arrest or the charges that he would later face.  Id. at 200.  At the conclusion of a pretrial hearing, the trial court denied the motion and found, “[b]ased on the totality of the circumstances,” that “the State had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary.”   Ibid.

In a divided decision, the Appellate Division majority adopted a new rule “requiring police officers, prior to interrogation, to inform an arrestee of the charges that will be filed against him, even when no complaint or arrest warrant has been issued identifying those charges.”  Id. at 197 (emphasis added) (citing State v. Sims, 466 N.J. Super. 346, 358 (App. Div. 2021), rev’d, 250 N.J. 189 (2022)).  In applying that rule, the majority “held that the trial court violated defendant’s Miranda rights and committed plain error when it admitted into evidence defendant’s statement to police.”  Id. at 204.

The New Jersey Supreme Court declined to adopt the new rule and reversed.  Id. at 217.  The Court wrote that it generally considers the “totality of the circumstances” in determining whether an “interrogee has knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right against self-incrimination in the setting of a custodial interrogation.”  Id. at 211 (citing State v. Nyhammer, 197 N.J. 383, 402-03 (2009)).  The Court departs from that rule in only very limited circumstances, including, requiring officers to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint has been filed or an arrest warrant has been issued before interrogating him or her.  Id. at 212 (citing State v. A.G.D., 178 N.J. 56, 68 (2003)).  The failure to so inform a suspect deprives him or her of information indispensable to a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights.  Id. at 215 (citing State v. A.G.D., 178 N.J. at 68).

The Court in Sims found that the rule proposed by the Appellate Division majority relied not on an objective statement of the charges, but rather “on an officer’s prediction, based on information learned to date in a developing investigation, of what charges may be filed.”  Id. at 215.  The Court wrote that “[a]n officer acting in good faith might inadvertently misinform an arrestee as to the charges that he will eventually face.”  Ibid.  Further, the Court set forth that it did not “share the Appellate Division’s conclusion that law enforcement officers can resolve any ambiguities or disputes about charging decisions before a judicial officer has reviewed the showing of probable cause and issued a complaint-warrant or arrest warrant.”  Ibid.  Thus, the Court declined to adopt a rule that would require officers to tell a suspect, not subject to a complaint-warrant or arrest warrant, what charges he or she faces before interrogation.  Id. at 217.

A determination of whether a criminal complaint has been filed or an arrest warrant has been issued against an individual prior to interrogation is a critical factor in determining whether the individual’s statement was knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently made.  If you are facing criminal charges you should immediately reach out to our team of experienced former prosecutors to schedule a free case review with one of our expert criminal defense attorneys.  A complete understanding of criminal law by your attorney is crucial to your defense.  Your rights and freedoms are in jeopardy, and you owe it to yourself to act.  We are available to provide immediate assistance and further counsel on your criminal case at (862) 210-8570.