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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Right to Counsel Not Established by Desire to Speak with Mother. State v. Diaz-Bridges 208 NJ 544 (2012)

25.   Right to Counsel Not Established by Desire to Speak with Mother.  State v. Diaz-Bridges 208 NJ 544 (2012)
     Because neither defendant’s statements about his desire to speak with his mother nor any of his other statements were assertions of his constitutionally-protected right to silence, the suppression of any portion of his confession was in error.
1. To determine whether a defendant invoked the right to remain silent, the Court employs a totality of the circumstances approach that focuses on the reasonable interpretation of defendant’s words and behaviors. If the suspect’s invocation of the right to remain silent is clear and unambiguous, it must be scrupulously honored. If, however, the invocation is equivocal or ambiguous, leaving the investigating officer reasonably unsure whether the suspect was asserting that right, the Court has not required that the interrogation cease, but has instead permitted officers to clarify the ambiguous words or acts. Because both the words used and the suspect’s behaviors form part of the inquiry into whether the officer should have reasonably believed that the right was being asserted, the inquiry demands a fact-sensitive analysis. When the trial court’s factual findings are based only on its viewing of a recorded interrogation that is equally available to the appellate court, the appellate court may consider the recording itself and deference to the trial court’s interpretation is not required.

2. Although the mere request by an adult to speak with a parent does not equate to an invocation of the right to remain silent, the totality of the circumstances approach implicates considerations other than the suspect’s words, including changes in demeanor and emotional responses to questions about a crime. There is no basis on which to conclude, merely because a suspect responds to a question by weeping or moaning, or with other changes in behavior, that he or she intends to invoke the right to silence. Although those behaviors form part of the larger mosaic of the circumstances to be considered, none of them taken alone is a sufficient indication of a decision to invoke the right to silence that the immediate cessation of the interrogation must follow.  

3. Considering the totality of the circumstances, defendant did not invoke his right to silence. Defendant willingly agreed to speak with the police on multiple occasions. Although when confronted with inconsistencies in his various stories, defendant’s demeanor changed and he began to weep, one cannot reasonably equate that response with the invocation of any right. Nor is his request to speak with his mother of constitutional significance. Nothing in the words that defendant used suggested that he was asking for the questioning to stop or intended to invoke his right to silence. When defendant did clarify the reasons for the request, he told the detectives that he wanted to be the first to tell his mother what he had done. He repeatedly told them that he was willing to continue speaking with them. As a result, his requests to speak with his mother cannot be interpreted to have been a desire to secure her advice about the waiver of his rights or an assertion of silence pending the grant of permission to speak with her.
4. Contrary to the trial court’s findings, the record does not support a finding that defendant was overborne by exhaustion or psychological stress, unfairly pressured, or told that he was required to answer the interrogators questions. Although the appellate panel found that defendant’s statement at six hours and five minutes sufficed to invoke the right to silence, there is nothing in those words that differed from his earlier assertions. Although the panel relied on defendant’s statement that he wanted to go home, that assertion was made when he was alone in the interrogation room and there is no indication that the detectives were aware of that statement.  
5. Defendant’s requests to speak with his mother sprang from the very understandable desire to tell her what he had done before she heard it from the police and to hear her words of comfort. Those requests, based on all of the circumstances, did not at any time constitute defendant’s invocation of his right to silence.