False Promises: Can Police Conduct Vitiate the Validity of a Signed Miranda Waiver?

Yes, as held in State v. Sims, if the Court determines that the waiver was not signed knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily then that waiver is considered ineffective and the defendant’s Fifth Amendment Rights can still be violated.

The right against self-incrimination is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and by New Jersey statutes. The historic 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, requires law enforcement to inform individuals in police custody of these rights prior to questioning.

Generally, by signing a waiver of these rights, an individual who is in police custody acknowledges that they are not being pressured or coerced to provide information to law enforcement personnel.   However, there are exceptions to this general proposition.

On May 24th, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey decided in State v. Thomas, that the trial court erred in denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress his statement to law enforcement despite the fact that the Defendant signed a written waiver of his Miranda rights. The Court came to this conclusion based on the circumstances surrounding the Defendant’s statements to law enforcement.

The case against this Defendant arose out of the co-defendant’s alleged involvement in a robbery and double murder. When officers executed a search warrant on the co-defendant’s house, the Defendant was present and was brought in for questioning. During the first and second interrogation, the Defendant continuously denied any involvement in the crimes committed even after signing the waiver of his Miranda rights. The officers, not getting the information they wanted, attempted to induce a confession from the Defendant by indicating that his cooperation would allow him to avoid facing charges. The Defendant admitted some information regarding his whereabouts, and that information was deemed admissible by the trial court despite the Defendant’s motion to suppress his statement.

The Defendant made two contentions on appeal regarding the inadmissibility of his statements to law enforcement officers:

(1) the waiver of his rights was not made voluntarily because the officers recited the Miranda rights hastily and presented them as a formality, and

(2) the waiver of rights was not made voluntarily because the officers coerced him into giving them information.

On the first issue, the Court found that a defendant signing a waiver of his rights which were read aloud to him cannot be accepted as evidence of a waiver when the officer minimizes the significance of that signature.

The Court also found that the officer’s indications that the Defendant would “get ahead of” or “get in front of” potential criminal charges by answering their questions represented a clear contradiction of the Miranda warnings.

The Court cited earlier cases in which interrogating officers had misled defendant’s into believing that their statements would help them rather than harm them. The Court, in those cases, observed that “a police officer cannot directly contradict, out of one side of his mouth, the Miranda warnings just given out of the other”.

Thus, although a defendant may sign a waiver of his Fifth Amendment rights, it is the totality of the circumstances surrounding that signature that determine its validity.

If you or a loved one has been charged with an offense that implicates a confession or a statement given to law enforcement, please do not hesitate to contact our Jersey City or Secaucus office at 201-470-3215.

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