Cops can’t contradict or diminish Miranda warnings to coax suspects to talk, court rules

By: - May 2, 2022 3:26 pm

Miranda warnings are a constitutional requirement meant to protect a person's rights, not a formality, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in his ruling.

Police who read suspects their rights before interrogations cannot then lie or contradict the Miranda warning to entice them to talk or confess, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who wrote the opinion, upheld an appellate ruling that suppressed statements a man made in 2013 to a Hackensack detective who assured him his Miranda warning was a “formality” and his statements to police would remain confidential.

The suspect admitted during the subsequent interrogation that he inappropriately touched his girlfriend’s granddaughter over a two-year period starting when the girl was 11, according to the ruling. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to second-degree endangering the welfare of a child — but reserved the right to challenge the admission of his statement on appeal. He received a suspended prison sentence and parole supervision for life.

A divided appeals panel suppressed the statement, concluding the detective’s comments were a “blatant end-run around measures designed to protect bedrock constitutional guarantees.”

In affirming the appellate ruling, Rabner said an officer “cannot directly contradict, out of one side of his mouth, the Miranda warnings just given out of the other,” citing a 2003 case.

In the Hackensack case, the detective told the man, “What we talk about in here is between us … We’re in here, it’s confidential between us, it’s staying between us, OK,” according to the ruling.

Rabner said calling Miranda warnings a formality downplays their significance.

“The label suggests that Miranda warnings are little more than a box on a bureaucratic checklist waiting to be checked off — and that is simply wrong,” Rabner said. “Miranda warnings are a constitutional requirement meant to protect a person’s rights under the Fifth Amendment; they are not a formality.”

First Assistant Public Defender Joseph Russo, who filed an amicus brief in the case, celebrated the ruling as a victory for anyone statewide who finds themselves on the other side of an interrogation table.

“The Fifth Amendment is one of the most sacred and fundamental rights in the law,” Russo said. “Miranda rights are not just technicalities. You cannot gut Miranda and neutralize or contradict the Fifth Amendment when a suspect is totally powerless within the confines of a windowless 4-by-6 room.”

Monday’s ruling was the latest case the Supreme Court has decided addressing issues around Miranda warnings.

In a March ruling, the justices reversed an appellate decision that expanded Miranda rights by requiring officers to inform defendants what charges they could face. And last month, the justices ruled a Miranda warning is sufficient during interrogations of undocumented immigrants, and officers don’t have to inform them that their answers could impact their immigration status.

The federal Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that could threaten the protections of the Miranda warning. In that California case, the court is weighing whether the warning is a constitutional right.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.