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Statements to Police Without a Lawyer  Excluded

Recently, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court suppressed the confession of the Defendant in State v. Funchess, A-2435-10.  The Court ruled that the Defendant’s confession was inadmissible because the police (interrogators) failed to ascertain the Defendant’s mental state when it was apparent that he was under the influence of drugs.

In this case the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office responded to a location in Trenton after receiving a report of shots fired. Defendant was identified as a suspect and transported to the police department.

Defendant was taken to the police station and interrogated.  The interrogation was recorded and the  Defendant stated “[M]y head’s fucked up now see,”, adding later on that “I gotta habit, man.”

The detectives told him that he needed to sign a waiver of his rights before he could say what happened.

“No lawyer, no nothin’?” Defendant said.

“Hey, listen,” the police said.

“That’s what I’m doin’ by signin’ that paper, I’m waivin’ my right at, to a lawyer?” Defendant asked.

“The only way to get your side of the story is to read this to you,” the police said. “And you can tell us whatever you wanna tell us.”

Defendant also expressed concern about being able to go to work the following day.

The police again told Defendant he could speak with at attorney, and asked him if he understood that.

“Yeah,” Defendant said. “Just sign,” said the police.

During the interrogation the Defendant stated, “ I know. I understand. I understand. But how long do I have to wait before I talk to a lawyer?”

To which the police responded, “What do you mean?”

The Defendant replied, “No, I mean, will I talk to the lawyer tonight? Will I, will I . . .”

The police replied, “Whenever you want, this is, this is basically just telling you that you have the right to be represented by a lawyer. If you say you want a lawyer then we can’t talk to you at all right now. And you can’t give us your side of the story. That’s what that means.”

Appellate Division ruled that there was enough ambiguity in Defendant’ statements regarding whether he wanted to speak with an attorney that the suppression motion should have been granted.

The judges quoted the state Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Reed, 133 N.J. 237 (1993): “[A] suspect need not be articulate, clear or explicit in requesting counsel; any indication of a desire for counsel, however ambiguous, will trigger entitlement to counsel.”

The Appellate Court held that the officers should have asked more in-depth questions as to whether Defendant understood he could speak to a lawyer before answering questions, whether he actually did want one and whether he was under the influence at the time, the judges said. Rather, they added, the officers seemed to repeatedly tell Defendant that this was his chance to tell his side of the story.

“Viewing the totality of the circumstances here, including defendant’s questions and statements, we are not satisfied that he had a clear understanding of his right to counsel or the consequences of his waiver, “the judges said. “Our confidence in his level of comprehension is further diminished by the strong suggestion in the transcript that defendant may have been under the influence of drugs at the time of the interview.”

The lesson to be learned in this case is that whenever an individual is arrested and questioned by the police, he or she should always unequivocally assert the right to consult with an attorney before speaking to the police.  The defenses to the state’s evidence vary and can be complex. Do not delay. Contact the municipal court defense lawyers at DeMichele & DeMicheleonline today for a confidential consultation. You can also reach us by telephone at (856) 546-1350.

Post Author: Greg DeMichele

Gregory P. DeMichele is a seasoned litigator, devoting a substantial part of his practice to municipal court, family law and personal injury matters.