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Requesting to Speak With Your Mother Is Not An Invocation of Miranda Rights

The New Jersey State Supreme Court has recently handed down yet another significant decision in the area of criminal law and defense, specifically with regard to the invocation of a defendant's so-called Miranda rights (i.e., right to remain silent, right to consult with an attorney, etc).  In State v. Diaz-Bridges, the Supreme Court held that a defendant's request to speak with his mother while in the midst of a custodial interrogation was not an assertion of his right to remain silent as guaranteed under the United States Supreme Court's seminal decision in Miranda v. Arizona.

In Diaz-Bridges, the defendant was being questioned by detectives in connection with a murder investigation.  The interview was video-taped and recorded.  The defendant was read his Miranda rights at the outset of the questioning, which he waived.  After about three hours of questioning, the defendant broke down and began to weep.  When asked again about the murder, the defendant requested permission to call his mother before going any further.  He was not permitted to call his mother, and upon further questioning, confessed to the murder.  He again requested to speak with his mother, but the detectives advised him that they needed to take a formal statement, whereupon he again waived his Miranda rights.  Throughout the questioning, the defendant continued to request to speak with his mother.  After he was finally allowed to call her, approximately six hours into the questioning, he confessed yet again.

Although the lower court granted the defendant's motion to suppress his statements to the police, finding that defendant's asking to speak with his mother was tantamount to an assertion of his right to remain silent, the Supreme Court held differently.  Since none of his statements, including those relative to speaking with his mother, were assertions of his constitutionally protected right to remain silent, the Court held that the suppression of his statement was erroneous.  Looking at the totality of the circumstances, the Court determined that there was no invocation of this right by the defendant.  Since there was nothing in the defendant's statement reasonably suggesting that he was asking to stop the questioning or assert his right to silence, defendant's confession was therefore evidential and admissible at trial.

This is a significant decision concerning the rights of criminal defendants.  Interestingly, it was a three-two decision (i.e., three Supreme Court justices voted to overrule the lower court, thereby permitting the defendant's statement to be admitted into evidence, while two justices voted the other way).  The Supreme Court of New Jersey is composed of seven justices; two did not participate in this opinion.  It goes without saying this was a very close call in this extremely important area of the law.

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