State v. Jones

Citation705 A.2d 373,308 N.J.Super. 15
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. William David JONES, Defendant-Respondent.
Decision Date27 January 1998
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division

Annmarie Cozzi and John J. Scaliti, Assistant Prosecutors, for plaintiff-appellant (William H. Schmidt, Bergen County Prosecutor, attorney; Ms. Cozzi and Mr. Scaliti, of counsel and on the brief; John L. Higgins, III, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel).

David A. Ruhnke, Montclair, for defendant-respondent (Ruhnke & Barrett, attorneys; Jean deSales Barrett and Mr. Ruhnke, on the brief).


The opinion of the court was delivered by


Pursuant to leave granted, the State appeals from pre-trial orders entered on August 5, 1997 in this capital murder prosecution under Bergen County Indictment No. S-1452-95. The orders (1) denied the State's application to permit it to use for impeachment purposes certain of defendant's statements to Officer Ziegler; (2) suppressed certain writings seized at defendant's home pursuant to a search warrant; and (3) ordered the prosecutor to examine the personnel files of its law enforcement witnesses "for material relevant to credibility and to disclose information relevant to credibility to the defense."

We also granted the State leave to appeal from an August 6 order barring the deputy medical examiner from "offering at trial the opinions set forth in a supplemental report" and ordering that, in the event "the Appellate Division [reverses] this court's ruling ... concerning the opinions set forth in [the medical examiner's] supplemental report, there shall be separate guilt and penalty phase juries empaneled in this matter."

Defendant William Jones is an African-American male, born in September 1973, who lived in Leonia, New Jersey. On July 19, 1995, Sergeant O'Meara of the Leonia Police Department was outside police headquarters when Jones approached him. O'Meara knew Jones and Jones' mother because of their involvement in community sports programs. As Jones approached, O'Meara noticed that Jones was distraught, pale and "shaken up." As O'Meara began to greet defendant, defendant said, "There's been a murder here." O'Meara asked where and defendant said "168 Spring Street." O'Meara then asked defendant whether he was okay and defendant stated, "You don't understand, I'm the bad guy here." As a result of this exchange, O'Meara told Jones to "Stop right there." O'Meara then used a portable communication device and called the dispatcher located in the police headquarters. He told the dispatcher to send Detective Ziegler outside. Ziegler emerged from the building, and O'Meara told him that "We may have a murder here."

As O'Meara, Ziegler and Jones walked into the police building, O'Meara asked whether an ambulance was needed. Defendant said, "No, I'm pretty sure she's dead." Then defendant said, "You'd better send the paramedics." O'Meara told the communication's officer to dispatch the paramedics to 168 Spring Street. O'Meara knew that to be defendant's home address. O'Meara and another officer then left to go to the scene, leaving only defendant, Ziegler and the communication's officer at headquarters. O'Meara testified that defendant was not under arrest and he was not handcuffed when O'Meara left police headquarters to go to defendant's home. O'Meara further testified that he did not interpret defendant's statement that he was the "bad guy" as an admission of criminal involvement.

Officer Ziegler testified that he did not know Jones. When O'Meara told Ziegler that defendant wanted to tell the police about a murder, Ziegler gave it no credibility because the Leonia police frequently received unfounded information from juveniles about alleged crimes. However, when Ziegler noticed that defendant was pale and shaking, Ziegler then believed that defendant may have been a witness to a crime. O'Meara had not told Ziegler about defendant's statement that he was the "bad guy."

Ziegler and defendant then had the following conversation:

Ziegler: "Are you sure that she's dead?"

Defendant: "Yes."

Ziegler: "Well how do you know that she's dead?"

Defendant: "I checked."

Ziegler: "How did you check?"

Defendant: "I checked her breathing."

During this conversation, defendant, on overhearing a radio communication, said: "Tell them that the front door is open and that the body is in the basement." Ziegler then asked defendant whether anyone else was in the house and defendant replied "no." Ziegler asked defendant whether the victim was defendant's mother and defendant said "no." Ziegler asked whether she was defendant's girlfriend and defendant said, "No, she's just a friend." Ziegler testified that he perceived some reluctance on defendant's part to answer those questions. Ziegler then testified:

I didn't know at this point whether I was dealing with a witness now or whether I was dealing with someone who may have had some involvement, and needing to determine one way or the other, I asked him, "I'm starting to get the impression that you had something to do with this, is that true?"

And at that point he sighed very heavily looked down into his lap, nodded to me in the affirmative. He looked back up and he said, "All the evidence you need is in the basement."

In response, Ziegler said, "Do you understand at this point that you are under arrest?" Defendant replied, "Yes, I know." Ziegler then handcuffed Jones to a chair and advised him of his Miranda 1 rights. Defendant stated, "I'd better get an attorney," and Ziegler terminated the interview.

Sergeant O'Meara and other police officers arrived at 168 Spring Street at approximately 5:15 p.m. Having been informed by Ziegler that defendant said that the evidence was in the basement, O'Meara entered the empty house and made his way to the cellar. At the bottom of the basement stairway, O'Meara saw a large puddle of blood, a blood-soaked towel and sheet and organic matter on the floor. According to O'Meara, the ceiling, walls and furniture were covered with spattered blood. O'Meara also observed a pitchfork and a pruning-type saw blade on the floor as well as a blood-covered metal baseball bat near the stairway.

O'Meara followed a trail of blood leading to another basement room where he observed a woman lying on her back on the floor, face up with a plastic garbage bag over her head. The woman was lying in a large pool of blood and her clothing was bunched up around her chest. She was naked from the upper abdomen to her ankles, socks and sneakers. Her underpants were hanging off her upper left thigh. O'Meara secured the scene and notified the prosecutor's office and the medical examiner. The medical examiner, Maryann Clayton, M.D., arrived at the scene and pronounced the victim dead. The victim was eventually identified as A.K., age twenty-one.

Defendant's Statements

Before we discuss the circumstances regarding the issuance and execution of the search warrant, we address the potential use of certain of defendant's statements to Ziegler in the event defendant testifies at trial. In a forty-five page written opinion, the trial court addressed a number of issues, including the admissibility of defendant's statements to O'Meara and Ziegler. The court determined that Miranda was not applicable to defendant's statements made to O'Meara on the street because defendant was not then in custody. The court ruled that custody began when defendant was escorted into the police headquarters, and that questions asked thereafter, constituted custodial interrogation requiring Miranda warnings. The court, however, relying on People v. Modesto, 62 Cal.2d 436, 42 Cal.Rptr. 417, 398 P.2d 753 (1965); People v. Dean, 39 Cal.App.3d 875, 114 Cal.Rptr. 555 (1974); and People v. Willis, 104 Cal.App.3d 433, 163 Cal.Rptr. 718, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 877, 101 S.Ct. 222, 66 L.Ed.2d 99 (1980), applied the so-called "rescue doctrine" and held that statements made in the police department relating to defendant's checking of the victim's breathing and defendant's certainty that the victim was dead were admissible despite the absence of Miranda warnings. The court also ruled that Ziegler's asking whether anyone else was in the house also fell within this group and was, therefore, admissible because "Ziegler was most likely attempting to learn whether or not a third party had also been injured in the course of events that led to the reported death of the victim."

Due to the Miranda violation, the court, in its August 5 order, ruled inadmissible defendant's statement that "all the evidence you need is in the basement" as well as defendant's affirmative nod in response to the question "I'm starting to get the impression you are involved in this, is this true?" The court determined that defendant's statement, "Tell them that the front door is open and that the body is in the basement," was admissible because it was a volunteered statement and not the result of an interrogation.

The State did not seek leave to appeal from the trial court's determinations regarding the applicability of Miranda to certain of the questions posed to defendant in the police station. The State does challenge, and we granted leave to appeal from, the court's determination that defendant's affirmative nod to Ziegler's question as to whether defendant was involved and defendant's statement that "all the evidence you need is in the basement" were involuntary and, therefore, may not be used by the State for impeachment purposes at trial if defendant testifies. The court's determination in this regard was not made in its written opinion but rather in an oral opinion on July 22, 1997, after it had filed its written opinion. It appears from its oral opinion that the court deemed the nod and final statement as involuntary because it was satisfied that "it dawned on Officer Ziegler in advance in that he was now...

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  • Stone v. Author
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • November 17, 2017
    ...No. 18-58 at 47.] Secondly, the admission of these statements comports with New Jersey jurisprudence. For example, in State v, Jones, 308 N.J. Super. 15, 25 (App. Div. 1998), the court held that a defendant's statements were admissible, where the defendant himself approached the police, vol......
  • State v. Wright
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    ...State v. Sugar, 84 N.J. 1, 14-15, 417 A.2d 474 (1980); State v. Carter, 69 N.J. 420, 429, 354 A.2d 627 (1976); State v. Jones, 308 N.J.Super. 15, 42, 705 A.2d 373 (App.Div.1998). 1 United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 87 S.Ct. 1926, 18 L.Ed.2d 1149 (1967).2 Alternatively, the State could ha......
  • State v. Rodriguez
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    • March 22, 2018
    ...favorable to the defendant "known to others acting on the government's behalf in the case, including the police." State v. Jones, 308 N.J. Super. 15, 42-43 (App. Div. 1998) (quoting Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 437 (1995)). However, that duty cannot be triggered by mere speculation that ......
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