Court Ruling Addresses Right to an Attorney in Police Interrogations

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hartford criminal defense laywerDefendants in criminal cases often struggle to protect their rights, especially when police officers or other law enforcement officials use threats, lies, and coercion to extract confessions. While most people are aware of their “Miranda rights,” which include the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions or provide information requested by police officers, as well as the right to be represented by an attorney, many people are convinced to waive these rights during an investigation or interrogation. A recent case in New Jersey illustrates how this issue may be handled in certain situations and how those who are accused of committing crimes can protect their rights.

New Jersey Supreme Court Reverses Verdict Based on Defendant’s Right to an Attorney

In the case of State v. Gonzalez, a woman who had worked as a nanny was accused of assaulting a child that was in her care and causing broken bones and other injuries. Prior to being interrogated by police officers, she had signed a waiver of her Miranda rights. During the interrogation, an officer lied to her and claimed that there was video surveillance of her interactions with the child. This led her to confess to abusing the child, and the officer also convinced her to write an apology note to the child’s parents.

During her trial, the defendant attempted to have the confession and apology note suppressed because she had not been allowed to have an attorney represent her during the interrogation. The court denied this request and allowed the evidence to be used during the trial, and the woman was convicted of child endangerment and assault and sentenced to nine years in prison.

After multiple appeals, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard the case, and it ruled that the confession and apology should not have been allowed to be used as evidence in the trial. The primary issue that informed the decision was whether the defendant had properly requested to have an attorney represent her during the interrogation. She did not explicitly ask for an attorney, but she did ask the officer “What do I do about an attorney?” and whether the officer would help her with an attorney. Even though this was an ambiguous request, the Supreme Court ruled that the officer should have stopped the investigation and asked for clarification about whether the defendant was invoking her right to be represented by legal counsel.

Notably, the United States Supreme Court has found that police officers are only required to stop an interrogation if a person makes an unambiguous and unequivocal request for attorney representation. However, New Jersey laws allow for more flexibility, and even if a person makes ambiguous statements that indicate that they may wish to have attorney representation, officers are required to seek clarification and determine whether a person is invoking their right to legal counsel.

Contact Our Hartford Criminal Defense Attorney

This case illustrates the importance of attorney representation for anyone who is accused of a crime or who is being questioned by police officers. Law enforcement officials do not always respect a person’s rights, and they often use lies or other unethical methods to seek confessions or pursue convictions. Woolf Law Firm, LLC believes in protecting the rights of criminal defendants, and by contacting us as soon as you are arrested or are aware that you are being investigated for a crime, we can help you take the correct steps to avoid incriminating statements. To get the representation you need and deserve, contact our Connecticut criminal defense lawyer at 860-290-8690 and schedule your free consultation.

Sources:

https://www.law.com/njlawjournal/2022/05/23/confession-obtained-via-police-lie-cannot-stand/

https://www.njcourts.gov/attorneys/assets/opinions/webcast/a_47_20.pdf


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