703 A.2d 901 (N.J. 1997), State v. P.Z

Citation703 A.2d 901, 152 N.J. 86
Opinion Judge[11] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Poritz
Party NameSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. P.Z., Defendant-Respondent.
Attorney[7] Marc E. Roessler, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for appellant (Daniel J. Carluccio, Ocean County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Roessler, Thomas M. Cannavo and Brent D. Miller, Assistant Prosecutors, on the briefs).
Case DateNovember 26, 1997
CourtSupreme Court of New Jersey

Page 901

703 A.2d 901 (N.J. 1997)

152 N.J. 86

STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant,


P.Z., Defendant-Respondent.

Supreme Court of New Jersey.

November 26, 1997

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Argued Oct. 8, 1996.

[152 N.J. 91] Marc E. Roessler, Assistant Prosecutor, for plaintiff-appellant (Daniel J. Carluccio, Ocean County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Roessler, Thomas M. Cannavo and Brent D. Miller, Assistant Prosecutors, on the briefs).

James K. Smith, Jr., Assistant Deputy Public Defender, for defendant-respondent (Susan L. Reisner, Public Defender, attorney; Mr. Smith and James Pinchak, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Peter D. Alvino, Deputy Attorney General, for amicus curiae, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Peter Verniero, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney; Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by [152 N.J. 92]


We granted leave to appeal, 143 N.J. 480, 672 A.2d 1164 (1996), to consider whether a caseworker from the Child Protective Services Unit of the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS" or "Division") must give Miranda warnings to a parent prior to a non-custodial interview related to a child abuse investigation. Defendant, P.Z., provided an inculpatory statement to a DYFS caseworker during an at-home interview conducted in the course of a Title Nine 1 inquiry. The caseworker reported the substance of the statement to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. When the prosecutor later filed criminal charges, defendant moved to suppress his statement. The trial court ruled defendant's statement inadmissible, and the Appellate Division affirmed. 285 N.J.Super. 219, 666 A.2d 1000 (1995). We reverse.


In November 1993, defendant's seven-week-old daughter, C.Z., was admitted to Jersey Shore Medical Center where she was diagnosed with and treated for "Shaken Baby Syndrome." Shaken Baby Syndrome was first recognized in the 1970s. Robin Elizabeth Margolis, Healthtrends, Healthspan, June 1994, at 21. Babies who have been grabbed by the chest or upper arms and violently shaken back and forth exhibit certain injuries characteristic of the syndrome. These babies may come to the attention of the medical community because of "projectile vomiting, sleepiness, poor appetite, eye hemorrhages, brain hemorrhages, and seizures." Ibid. Although they generally

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do not show signs of external injuries, babies who have been violently shaken may become severely brain-damaged or permanently blind. Some die. Ibid.; see also State v. Compton, 304 N.J.Super. 477, 485-87, 701 A.2d 468 (App.Div.1997) (discussing recognition of Shaken Baby [152 N.J. 93] Syndrome in "medical ... literature" and caselaw). C.Z. suffered from both old and new bleeding in the brain and from retinal bleeding in both eyes.

The hospital notified DYFS about C.Z.'s injuries as mandated by N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10 when there is "reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse." DYFS commenced a Title Nine investigation and reported the case to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. Initial interviews conducted by a DYFS caseworker with defendant, his wife, and defendant's father did not reveal a plausible explanation for C.Z.'s injuries. Shortly thereafter, on behalf of DYFS and pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.73 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12, the Attorney General instituted a civil action against defendant and his wife. DYFS sought temporary custody of C.Z. and her then two-year-old sister, M.Z., on the grounds that C.Z. had been injured by "other than accidental means" and that the Division was unable to ascertain who had caused the child's injuries. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21. Defendant and his wife were represented by separate counsel in the Title Nine action.

The Chancery Division granted legal custody of both children to DYFS but gave physical custody of M.Z. to her paternal grandfather. C.Z. remained hospitalized. Two subsequent orders were entered in January and March. The first provided that M.Z. would remain with her paternal grandfather, that defendant and his wife would live at a different location and have no unsupervised contact with M.Z., that defendant would submit to a drug and alcohol evaluation, and that the couple would submit to counseling, psychiatric evaluation, and parenting skills classes. The second order directed DYFS to obtain recommendations from the treating therapist and from a physician about visitation and family reunification.

Shortly before April 5, 1994, defendant's wife informed her counselor that defendant had admitted causing C.Z.'s injuries. C.Z. had been hospitalized for five months and was expected to be released shortly. Her mother's statement was therefore critical to [152 N.J. 94] the placement of both C.Z. and her older sister. DYFS caseworker Cheryl Ann Kobran attended a case planning conference with her supervisors and the Deputy Attorney General in charge of the Title Nine action to discuss how to proceed with the new information provided by defendant's wife. It was decided that Kobran should interview P.Z. after contacting the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether the interview would impede any pending investigation by that office.

On the morning of April 5, Kobran spoke to Investigator Joseph Lazzaro at the Prosecutor's Office and advised him that she planned to interview P.Z. Investigator Lazzaro informed Kobran that, although the Prosecutor's Office could not interview defendant because he had a lawyer, there was no obstacle to DYFS questioning P.Z. Lazzaro then asked Kobran to report the results of her interview with defendant to the prosecutor.

Later that day, Kobran and another DYFS caseworker, Donna Martinez, made an unannounced home visit to defendant. Kobran had been working with the family and was familiar to P.Z. She told defendant she was there to ask him about his wife's statement that he had admitted causing his infant daughter's injuries. Defendant's father was present and Kobran asked him to leave the room because he was talking. The father complied with Kobran's request and waited outside on the front porch while Kobran completed the interview.

Defendant acknowledged that he knew why Kobran was there, but said his attorney had told him not to speak to anyone. Kobran nonetheless encouraged defendant to speak, telling him that she was there to complete the DYFS investigation and to decide where to place C.Z. upon her impending discharge from the hospital. The caseworker also indicated concerns about M.Z.'s placement because of the new information obtained from P.Z.'s wife. Defendant admitted causing C.Z.'s injuries by shaking the baby two or three times because she was crying

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and he could not console her. He said that he felt remorse for what had happened and that he deserved to be punished. Kobran advised defendant [152 N.J. 95] that his statement would be turned over to the Prosecutor's Office and left with Martinez.

Almost six months later, on September 28, 1994, defendant was charged with two crimes of the second degree: endangering the welfare of a child, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a, and aggravated assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1). Defendant pled not guilty to the charges and his attorney moved to suppress his April 5 statement to Kobran. The Title Nine action concluded on February 10, 1995 when custody of C.Z. and M.Z. was granted to their mother.

A Miranda 2 hearing was held in May 1995. Defendant claimed that his rights, as guaranteed by the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, had been violated by the State. The trial court ruled that defendant's statement was inadmissible at his criminal trial. The court determined that defendant's Fifth Amendment rights had not been violated because Kobran's interview with defendant was non-custodial. However, the court considered that defendant had invoked his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when he told Kobran his attorney had advised him not to talk to her. The court found persuasive that a Title Nine action was pending, that counsel had been appointed for defendant, that the Prosecutor's Office was investigating the matter, and that the prosecutor had knowledge that the "interview [was] taking place."

The Appellate Division granted the State's motion for leave to appeal and affirmed the suppression of P.Z.'s statement. 285 N.J.Super. at 219, 666 A.2d 1000. The panel focused on the "serious personal consequences" that flowed from a Title Nine proceeding and concluded that "there was at least some coercive element in the environment of the situation confronting defendant" because "parallel civil and criminal systems [were] both operating against [him]." Id. at 227, 666 A.2d 1000. Despite "a paucity of case law" in support of its position, the court held [152 N.J. 96] broadly that "fundamental fairness and ... the Title Nine objective of child protection" require that statements made to DYFS in the context of a "Title Nine investigation may not be used against a party in a criminal action unless there is advice of Miranda rights and the affording of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel." Id. at 229, 666 A.2d 1000.



The New Jersey Legislature has enacted two "separate and distinct" statutes to protect children from abuse and neglect and to provide for the termination of parental rights. New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. K.M., 136 N.J. 546, 558, 643 A.2d 987 (1994). Title Nine governs the adjudication of abuse and neglect cases, while Title Thirty sets forth the procedures for the permanent removal of children from their parents. See New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.B., 137 N.J. 180, 185, 644 A.2d 1093 (1994). The express purpose of Title Nine is to

provide for the...

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