As a New Jersey criminal lawyer, clients often complain that the police did not read them their Miranda rights before arresting them. Failing to read a person his/her rights may lead to the judge eventually throwing out critical evidence (perhaps even the whole case), but the Appellate Division recently held in State v. Melendaz, 423 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 2011) that the police may pull over a vehicle or go to a person’s home and make an arrest, and then ask for the location of a gun without first reading the person their Miranda rights. Relying on the public safety exception in New York v. Quarles, 104 S. Ct. 2626, 2631 (1984), and State v. O’Neal, 190 N.J. 601, 618 (2007), the trial court admitted inculpatory statements defendant gave in response to officers’ questions about the location of the handgun he used to kill his wife. Defendant was in custody and had invoked his right to counsel. Assuming the claimed “public safety” meets the criteria in State v. Stephenson, 350 N.J. Super. 517, 525 (App. Div. 2002), the court was persuaded that the same “exigent circumstances” that permit the pre-Miranda interrogation of a defendant, permit the police to question a defendant after he or she has even invoked the right to counsel. But pursuant to Stephenson, the court held that there was an insufficient basis to apply the public safety exception. The court affirmed, however, because the trial court correctly found defendant waived his right to counsel, independent of the initially tainted interrogation.
If you are pulled over or police come to your home, the bottom line is that you should not be concerned about whether the police read you your Miranda rights. You have the right to remain silent, and you should exercise that right. And as always, if you are accused of a gun crime in New Jersey, or any other type of crime, please call us for a consultation.