NJ Supreme Court: Miranda & Juveniles

This week, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in State of New Jersey in the Interest of P.M.P. that, after the filing of a complaint, juveniles must have a lawyer present to waive their rights to remain silent under the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). “Under the Juvenile Justice Code, a juvenile is entitled to have counsel at every critical stage of the proceeding which, in the opinion of the court may result in the institutional commitment of the juvenile,” wrote Justice John Wallace, Jr. in a 5-2 opinion for the court.

The ruling stems from a Cape May County case in which P.M.P., a 20-year-old man, waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and be represented by an attorney and confessed to a sexual assault without a lawyer present. The charges stemmed from a complaint filed in 2008 alleging that he had sex in 2003 with a Cape May County girl who was either 6 or 7 years old at the time when the defendant was either 13 or 14 years old. Because the incident occurred when the defenant was a minor, he was charged as a juvenile. After a judge signed the complaint and he was arrested, P.M.P. waived his Miranda rights and admitted having sex with the girl.

A Cape May County Superior Court Judge granted P.M.P.’s motion to suppress the statement. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed in State in the Interest of P.M.P. 404 NJ Super. 69 (App. Div. 2008), saying that the different goals of the juvenile justice system and the adult system precluded having a juvenile complaint being treated like an adult indictment. The appellate court concluded that a juvenile delinquency complaint, filed at the direction of a county prosecutor’s office, is not the substantial equivalent of an indictment such that it initiates a formal adversarial proceeding and triggers a juvenile’s right to counsel. The NJ Supreme Court decision reverses the Appellate Division decision meaning that Cape May County prosecutors may not use statements made by the defendant. The Court effectively expanded its holding in State v. Sanchez, 129 N.J. 261 (1992), which held that after an indictment, an adult defendant cannot waive the right to counsel without the approval of the attorney. The Supreme Court stated in Sanchez: “As a general rule, after an indictment and before arraignment, prosecutors or their representatives should not initiate a conversation with defendants without the consent of defense counsel.” The rule in Sanchez now applies to juveniles as well as adults.

In dissent, Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto, joined by Justice Helen Hoens, said juvenile proceedings are not criminal prosecutions but exercises of the state’s parens patrie jurisdiction and are protective, not punitive. Rivera-Soto called the majority’s approach “nothing more than the mixing of one’s legal apples and oranges” and said “granting this adult defendant a newly found protection to which he otherwise would not be entitled solely because he committed his offenses while still a juvenile defies basic common sense.”