The justices ruled detectives unlawfully continued to question a man accused of killing his wife after he inquired about obtaining an attorney. (Getty Images)
A man convicted of killing his wife will get a new trial after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled his conviction hinged on an unlawful police interrogation.
In a unanimous decision, the high court found police officers unlawfully interrogated Abayuba Rivas for nearly six hours after he made an ambiguous inquiry about retaining an attorney.
During the course of the interrogation, Rivas confessed to striking his wife, Karla, on the head with a meat tenderizer, stuffing her into a suitcase, and stowing her body in a vacant home.
Rivas, who was in the hospital following a suicide attempt at the time of the interrogations, repeated the admission the following day, still having not conferred with an attorney.
Though a trial court barred admission of his initial confession, it allowed the one from the following day to be admitted, a decision upheld by an appellate panel.
The justices said the lower courts erred in allowing prosecutors to use the latter conviction at trial, finding detectives failed to clarify whether Rivas wanted to waive his right to an attorney and ruling his second confession was still tainted because the interrogation never legally ended.
Under federal case law and New Jersey statute, police must immediately stop an interrogation when a suspect requests an attorney. If the suspect’s request for an attorney is ambiguous, police must clarify whether they are waiving their right to counsel before resuming questioning.
The high court found the second conviction should also have been suppressed because Rivas was in police custody at all times on both days.
“There is no artificial line separating the suppressed confession and the moments before the detectives left the hospital when Rivas expressed a desire to see them again. There was no break in time between the two; they were inextricably intertwined,” Justice Barry Albin wrote for the court.
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