215 A.3d 516 (N.J. 2019), A-59-2017, State v. L.H.

Docket Nº:A-59-2017, 079974
Citation:215 A.3d 516, 239 N.J. 22
Opinion Judge:ALBIN, JUSTICE
Party Name:STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. L.H., Defendant-Respondent.
Attorney:Kayla Elizabeth Rowe, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for appellant (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Kayla Elizabeth Rowe, of counsel and on the briefs). Alicia J. Hubbard, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defende...
Judge Panel:JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, FERNANDEZ-VINA, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE ALBIN’s opinion. JUSTICE PATTERSON filed an opinion -- concurring in the remand for an evidentiary hearing as to the identification procedure and dissenting from the suppression of defendant’s confession -- in which CHIEF JUSTICE RAB...
Case Date:July 22, 2019
Court:Supreme Court of New Jersey
 
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215 A.3d 516 (N.J. 2019)

239 N.J. 22

STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

L.H., Defendant-Respondent.

Nos. A-59-2017, 079974

Supreme Court of New Jersey

July 22, 2019

Argued March 11, 2019

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

Kayla Elizabeth Rowe, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for appellant (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Kayla Elizabeth Rowe, of counsel and on the briefs).

Alicia J. Hubbard, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Alicia J. Hubbard, of counsel and on the briefs).

Farbod K. Faraji argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (Gibbons, and American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation, attorneys; Farbod K. Faraji, Lawrence S. Lustberg, Newark, and Alexander Shalom, on the brief).

Richard P. Lomurro argued the cause for amicus curiae Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey (Lomurro, Munson, Comer, Brown & Schottland, attorneys; Richard P. Lomurro, of counsel and Christina Vassiliou Harvey, Freehold, of counsel and on the brief).

OPINION

ALBIN, JUSTICE

[239 N.J. 27] No piece of evidence may have greater sway over a jury than a defendant’s confession. For that reason, it is of critical importance that law enforcement officers use interrogation techniques that will elicit confessions by lawful means.

To ensure that law enforcement officers turn square corners, New Jersey’s jurisprudence requires that the State "prove the voluntariness of a confession beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Galloway, 133 N.J. 631, 654, 628 A.2d 735 (1993). In their gatekeeping roles, our courts are charged with admitting into evidence only lawfully secured confessions. False promises of leniency -- promises "so enticing" that they induce a suspect to confess -- have the capacity to overbear a suspect’s will and to render the confession involuntary and inadmissible. See State v. Hreha, 217 N.J. 368, 383, 89 A.3d 1223 (2014).

[239 N.J. 28] The primary issue in this appeal is whether the interrogation techniques that induced defendant L.H. to confess crossed the forbidden line drawn by our case law.

In this case, the police took defendant into custody on suspicion that he had sexually assaulted two women and attempted to sexually assault another woman. During an interrogation that lasted approximately three hours, the two interrogating detectives repeatedly promised defendant counseling, indicating that he would not go to jail if he cooperated. The detectives also told defendant that "the truth would set him free" -- advice seemingly at odds with the Miranda 1 warning given to defendant that anything he said could be used against him. More than an hour into the interrogation, defendant made incriminating statements that implicated him in all three crimes. He was arrested and criminally charged.

Two days later, one of the victims, while viewing a photographic lineup, identified

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defendant as her assailant. The officer conducting the identification did not record the full dialogue between him and the victim, or the degree of confidence expressed by the victim in making the identification. Defendant claimed that the failure to memorialize the identification procedure violated State v. Delgado, 188 N.J. 48, 902 A.2d 888 (2006).

In pretrial hearings, the trial court determined that defendant’s confession and the victim’s identification were admissible. The court determined that the interrogating detectives did not overbear defendant’s will and that defendant made a voluntary confession. The court also determined that defendant failed to show that the identification procedure was suggestive, entitling him to a Wade 2 hearing, or that the recordation of that procedure violated the law. After the pretrial hearings, defendant pled guilty to [239 N.J. 29] various offenses but preserved his right to appeal the trial court’s evidentiary decisions.

The Appellate Division reversed. It held that the State failed to prove the voluntariness of the confession, finding that the detectives made false promises that overbore defendant’s will. It also remanded to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing to decide whether the identification procedure complied with Delgado and, if not, to consider the admissibility of the out-of-court identification and an appropriate remedy.

We affirm. We hold that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that, under the totality of the circumstances, defendant’s statement was voluntary. Based on that standard, the detectives overbore defendant’s will by false promises of leniency that assured counseling instead of incarceration, by representations that conflicted with the Miranda warnings, and by minimization of the gravity of the offenses. Defendant therefore may withdraw his guilty plea. Moreover, the failure to record the identification procedure as required by Delgado requires a remand to allow defendant the benefit of both a Wade hearing to inquire into the reliability of the identification and any other remedy deemed appropriate by the trial court. We remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

A.

On May 29, 2012, an Essex County grand jury returned a twelve-count indictment, charging defendant with first-degree kidnapping of M.H. and A.D., N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1(b)(1) (two counts); first-degree aggravated sexual assault of M.H. and A.D., N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) (four counts); second-degree aggravated assault of M.H. and A.D., N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1) (three counts); first-degree attempted aggravated sexual assault of V.B., N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) (one count); and third-degree terroristic threats to M.H. and A.D., N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(a) (two counts). The [239 N.J. 30] indictment alleged that defendant sexually assaulted M.H. on June 18, 2011 and A.D. on July 23, 2011 in Bloomfield Township and attempted to sexually assault V.B. on August 4, 2011 in Belleville Township.

Defendant moved to suppress the confession he made during an interrogation conducted by Detective Lieutenant Joseph Krentz and Detective Thomas Fano of the Bloomfield Police Department. Defendant argued that the detectives induced his confession by making false promises that he would not face jail time, thus overbearing his will and rendering his confession involuntary.

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The trial court held a two-day Miranda hearing to determine the admissibility of the confession. During the State’s presentation, Detective Krentz testified and the video-recorded interrogation was admitted into evidence. We discern the following facts from that record.

On August 6, 2011, at about 2:30 a.m., a task force of law enforcement officers from the Bloomfield and Belleville police departments and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, investigating the recent sexual assaults of women, stopped a motor vehicle in Bloomfield driven by defendant, who was suspected of committing the offenses. Detective Krentz directed a patrol officer to transport defendant to Bloomfield police headquarters.

For approximately three hours at headquarters, defendant remained either handcuffed in a room or confined in a cell. Then, at 5:31 a.m., Detectives Krentz and Fano led defendant into an interview room, where the detectives sat on the opposite side of a desk from defendant.

Detective Fano read defendant the Miranda warnings, advising him that he had a right to remain silent and to have an attorney present, and that anything he said could "be used against [him] in [a] court of law." Defendant signed the waiver-of-rights form. When defendant asked why he was being detained, Detective Fano responded that they would "get to that" after they asked "a [239 N.J. 31] couple of basic questions," adding, "you are here for a reason.... We didn’t pick you out of the tree."

For the first fifty-five minutes, the detectives secured information from defendant about his education, employment, prior residences, family, and his reason for driving in Bloomfield that evening. They learned that defendant was a high school graduate with several years of college credits and that he had a young daughter with a former girlfriend. They also learned that defendant had been convicted of a sexually related offense as a result of a claimed consensual relationship with a sixteen-year-old female when he was twenty-one or twenty-two years old and that he was a registered sex offender.

The detectives at first made no headway with defendant when inquiring about his movements in Bloomfield several evenings earlier. The interrogation began in earnest when defendant...

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