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New Jersey Supreme Court Holds Months-Long Delay Between Interrogations Not a ‘Break in Custody’ to Avoid Miranda Rights for Pretrial Detainee

by Dale Chappell

Concluding that there is a difference between those in prison and those in pre-trial detention, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a six-month delay after a pre-trial detainee’s re-interrogation was not a “break in custody” to avoid the Miranda rights invoked at the initial interrogation.

When Laurie Wint invoked his right to a lawyer under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the New Jersey detectives interrogating him about a murder in Camden stopped and left the room. About three minutes later, Pennsylvania detectives entered and tried to get Wint to talk about a murder they were investigating in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Again, Wint invoked his right to counsel; he did so at least six times while the detectives tried to convince him to talk. They gave up and left.

Six months later, the same Pennsylvania detectives took Wint to Bucks County and convinced him to waive his Miranda rights and talk. That’s when, according to a statement written by the detectives and signed by Wint, he admitted that, “in June 2011 I committed a murder in Camden.” Used against him at trial, the admission became New Jersey’s key evidence to convict Wint of the lesser-included manslaughter.

On appeal, Wint argued that the Pennsylvania detectives had no right to interrogate him because there was no break in custody after he invoked his Miranda rights, regardless of his waiver later on of those rights. The Appellate Division remanded for the trial court to determine whether the six-month period between interrogations in Camden and Bucks County was a break in custody to allow the later admission by Wint. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Wint’s petition for certification to hear the appeal.

In Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), the U.S. Supreme Court held that when an accused invokes his right to a lawyer, the interrogation must cease, following the mandates of Miranda.

Over the next 30 years, the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding evolved to preclude interrogations by other law enforcement after demanding a lawyer, even if the accused did consult with a lawyer.

The question in this case involved the exception announced in Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010), where the Court held that a “break in custody” of sufficient duration may allow another interrogation despite the earlier Miranda invocation.  The issue boiled down to whether there is a difference between a sentenced prisoner and a pretrial detainee. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that there is a difference for constitutional purposes.

The Court pointed out the “very different worlds” of pretrial detention and prison. A prisoner’s life is the prison environment, the Court said, while a pretrial detainee is supposed to be of “limited duration.” This factors in on the break in custody analysis for reinterrogations. After being questioned, a prisoner goes back to daily life, and another interrogation six months later would be a sufficient break, the Court noted. However, the daily life for a pretrial detainee is not jail but the free world. Six months in jail between interrogations for a pretrial detainee is not a break in custody, the Court concluded.

But, more importantly, the Court pointed out that “if returning a pre-indictment detainee to the county jail after he has requested counsel during an interrogation counted as a break in custody, then the prosecutor might have a perverse incentive to delay an indictment’s return to allow repeated attempts to interrogate a defendant every couple of weeks.”

This is because “his interrogators appear to control his fate,” he is “isolated” in a “police-dominated atmosphere,” and separated from friends and family. Therefore, a pretrial detainee would not have a “break” in custody under Shatzer until he was released to the free world for some time, the Court concluded, in order for another interrogation not to be coercive.

The Court accordingly reversed the Appellate Division’s decision and remanded for a new trial without the use of Wint’s statements. See: New Jersey v. Wint, 198 A.3d 963 (N.J. 2018).


Writer’s note: The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision conflicts with state court decisions from other jurisdiction, which have held that a break between interrogations for pretrial detainees is sufficient to allow for later statements. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Champney, 161 A.3d 265 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017). The U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in on this issue, so watch for a possible ruling by the High Court in the near future. 

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New Jersey v. Wint



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