State v. Burris

Decision Date24 July 1996
Citation145 N.J. 509,679 A.2d 121
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Kristina BURRIS, a/k/a Kristina Carolyn Burris, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Deborah C. Bartolomey, Deputy Attorney General, for appellant (Deborah T. Poritz, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney).

Stephen W. Kirsch, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, for respondent (Susan L. Reisner, Public Defender, attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


This appeal involves the impeachment of a criminal defendant by using the defendant's incriminating statement taken in violation of her constitutional right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment and the State privilege against self-incrimination.

Defendant became a prime suspect in the murder of her mother. The police asked her to come to police headquarters for questioning, where she was given Miranda warnings under the Fifth Amendment and the parallel state protections of the privilege against self-incrimination. The police then interrogated her. Defendant gave three statements to the police. In her first statement, she denied any involvement in her mother's death. Defendant then asked for a lawyer and refused to answer any further questions. The police, however, continued questioning defendant and elicited a second and third statement, both implicating defendant in the homicide.

The second and third statements given by defendant during custodial interrogation were acquired in violation of defendant's asserted right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment and New Jersey's privilege against self-incrimination. Although those statements were not admitted in evidence for purposes of proving defendant's guilt, the trial court determined that the statements could be used on cross-examination to impeach defendant's credibility.

This case raises the issue of whether the State may use a statement obtained in violation of a defendant's right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment and the State privilege against self-incrimination for impeachment purposes.


On April 19, 1990, the defendant, Kristina Burris, broke into the home of her mother, Carol Burris, and shot her; Carol Burris was killed instantly. Defendant then took her mother's car and credit cards. She called up a friend and went on a shopping spree. Later that evening, Burris paid for an evening at a motel with her boyfriend, Chris Leadbeater. Burris drove the victim's car around town for several days. Not having heard from her daughter, the victim's mother, defendant's grandmother, contacted the police. On April 23, 1990, the police entered the home of the victim and found her prone body with a plastic bag over her head. Neighbors reported seeing defendant driving the victim's car the same day the police found the victim's car and defendant at Leadbeater's home.

The officers asked defendant and Leadbeater to come to police headquarters for questioning. Defendant gave three statements to the police. In the first statement, taken after defendant was read her Miranda rights, defendant insisted that the car she had been driving belonged to a friend, despite the officers showing defendant evidence to the contrary. Burris claimed that she had her mother's credit cards for "a while," and that she had not seen her mother since January 1990. Defendant then asked for a lawyer, and refused to answer any further questions. Nevertheless, in response to continued interrogation, defendant gave two more statements.

Defendant gave her second statement after the police confronted her with evidence of factual inaccuracies in her first statement. In her second statement, defendant denied breaking a window at her mother's house, but admitted to knocking on the door, and entering when her mother answered. She claimed an argument ensued, and then her mother fell on the floor. The defendant recalled "yelling and getting real hot, just mad." Her mother said, "Tina," and then fell over near a grandfather clock. Defendant stated that she dragged the victim's body to a bedroom. She also admitted taking her mother's credit cards, but denied using them. She later admitted going shopping and paying for a hotel room at the Inn of the Dove with her mother's American Express card. The second statement terminated at 1:22 a.m.

Three hours later, after police told defendant that her mother had died of gunshot wounds, defendant made her third and final statement to the police. Defendant stated her mother died five days earlier, on April 19th. Burris claimed that a friend, Jay Rodriguez, picked her up from her father's house on Thursday afternoon in Delaware. While waiting for defendant to get ready, Rodriquez stole her father's handgun. She then told the police officers that when she and Rodriquez arrived at her mother's house, she entered through the front door, but Rodriguez broke in through the back window and shot her mother. Defendant stated that Rodriguez then gave her the gun and told her to return it to her father's house. Burris told police that she returned the gun on April 23rd. The third statement ended at 4:48 a.m.

The second and third statements were taken in violation of defendant's Miranda rights. They were, for that reason, not admitted at trial as direct evidence on the State's case-in-chief. Those statements were, however, used to impeach defendant's credibility on cross-examination.

At trial, defendant testified to another version of the story. She asserted that on April 19, 1990, Rodriguez picked her up in Delaware at her father's house and drove her to her mother's house. She testified that Rodriguez had stolen a gun from her father's home while he was there waiting for her. She stated that she took the gun away from Rodriguez and put it in her jeans. Defendant also contended that although she was delighted to see her mother, an argument ensued. Burris said that in order to change the subject of the argument, she pulled out the gun to show her mother. Defendant then testified that "somehow it went off and it hit my mom and she fell on the ground. I didn't know what happened ... [as I tried] to figure out how it went off ... it went off again and hit the wall and I dropped [the gun]." Defendant did not recall telephoning the Inn of the Dove, and denied kicking in the window at her mother's house. Nor did she remember moving her mother's body or putting bags over the body. Defendant had little recall of the weekend, but remembered being at the police station late at night with three officers yelling at her.

The State sought to use the second and third custodial statements to impeach defendant's credibility. The trial court determined that those statements were voluntary and could be used for impeachment purposes although taken in violation of defendant's constitutional rights. The court instructed the jury that the statements were not to be used as substantive evidence, but only for purposes of evaluating defendant's credibility.

The jury convicted defendant of murder, possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a handgun, and unlawful use of a credit card. The court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of thirty years without parole. The Appellate Division, concluding that the State's use of the second and third statements was impermissible, reversed the convictions for murder and possession of a firearm. We granted the State's petition for certification. 140 N.J. 326, 658 A.2d 726 (1995).


The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that "[n]o person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself...." The privilege against self incrimination is binding on the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964). Although there is no direct counterpart within the New Jersey Constitution, the privilege against self-incrimination "is firmly established as part of the common law of New Jersey and has been incorporated into our Rules of Evidence." In re Martin, 90 N.J. 295, 331, 447 A.2d 1290 (1982) (citations omitted).

The United States Supreme Court has prescribed procedures that must be followed to assure the protection of an individual's privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), the Supreme Court determined that as a constitutional prerequisite to the admissibility of a statement by a suspect, he must be warned of the right to remain silent, told that any statement made may be used as evidence against him, and informed that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.

The requirements imposed under Miranda have been characterized as prophylactic measures that are necessary to safeguard the essential constitutional right against self-incrimination; the rights encompassed by these protective measures are ancillary to the fundamental right that is at the core of the Fifth Amendment. Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 304, 105 S.Ct. 1285, 1290, 84 L.Ed.2d 222, 229 (1985). " 'The prophylactic Miranda warnings ... are "not themselves rights protected by the Constitution but [are] instead measures to insure that the right against compulsory self-incrimination [is] protected." ' " Id. at 305, 105 S.Ct. at 1291, 84 L.Ed.2d at 229-30 (quoting New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 654, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 2630, 81 L.Ed.2d 550, 556 (1984) (footnote omitted) (quoting Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433, 444, 94 S.Ct. 2357, 2364, 41 L.Ed.2d 182, 193 (1974))).

Because the Miranda warnings are prophylactic measures designed to ensure that a suspect's decision to speak to the police is knowing and voluntary, a Miranda violation itself is not determinative of a Fifth Amendment violation of the privilege against self-incrimination. Tucker, supra, 417 U.S. at 444-45, 94 S.Ct. at 2364, 41 L.Ed.2d at 193. A...

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