In State v. Anthony Sims, Jr. (A-53-20/085369) (Decided March 16, 2022), the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected an Appellate Division ruling requiring police officers, prior to interrogation, to inform an arrestee of the charges that will be filed against him, even when no complaint or arrest warrant has been issued identifying those charges. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the expansion of the rule stated in State v. A.G.D., which required law enforcement officers to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint has been filed or arrest warrant has been issued before interrogating him, is “unwarranted and impractical.”
Facts of State v. Sims
Defendant Anthony Sims, Jr. challenges his conviction of attempted murder and weapons offenses arising from the April 9, 2014 shooting of a twenty-eight-year-old man, P.V., outside his grandmother’s home. On April 13, 2014, four days after the shooting, detectives went to the hospital and met with P.V., who identified defendant as the man who shot him in a recorded statement. On April 14, 2014, prior to the issuance of any complaint or warrant or the filing of formal charges against defendant, detectives arrested defendant and conducted a videorecorded interview.
Defendant was read his Miranda rights and he waived those rights. In an interview that lasted just over two hours, defendant gave a statement in which he said that he knew P.V., that he was aware of the shooting, and that his girlfriend owned a vehicle that matched the description of a vehicle observed near the scene of P.V.’s shooting. Defendant denied that he was involved in the shooting.
Defendant moved to suppress his April 14, 2014 statement to police. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the trial court held that defendant’s waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary, and accordingly denied defendant’s motion.
The Appellate Division vacated defendant’s convictions and remanded for a new trial. A divided panel held that the police officers who interrogated defendant violated his Miranda rights. The Appellate Division majority relied on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in State v. A.G.D., 178 N.J. 56 (2003), in which the court held that a Miranda waiver is invalid if police do not inform a defendant that a criminal complaint has been filed or an arrest warrant has been issued against him. It also invoked the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Vincenty, 237 N.J. 122, 134 (2019), in which it held that if charges have been filed against a suspect prior to his interrogation, law enforcement officers should provide him with a “simple declaratory statement” identifying those charges before questioning him.
The Appellate Division majority construed A.G.D. and Vincenty to require that a defendant who has been arrested “be advised of the ‘actual’ and ‘specific’ charges he is facing,” whether or not any such charges have been formally filed.” It reasoned that a defendant, “[o]nce arrested,” must be “informed of the charge for which he was being placed under arrest before deciding whether to waive his right against self-incrimination.” The Appellate Division majority held that “in response to defendant’s inquiry as to whether he was arrested, the interrogating officers not telling defendant the charges for which he was arrested did not satisfy the requirements of A.G.D. and Vincenty.”
NJ Supreme Court’s Decision in State v. Sims
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed. In so ruling, it rejected the new rule prescribed by the Appellate Division .
As the New Jersey Supreme Court explained, in State v. A.G.D., it departed from the totality-of-the-circumstances rule and required law enforcement officers to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint has been filed or arrest warrant has been issued before interrogating him. The court reasoned that the failure to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint or arrest warrant has been filed or issued deprives that person of information indispensable to a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights.
“The rule announced in A.G.D. is clear and circumscribed. If a complaint-warrant has been filed or an arrest warrant has been issued against a suspect whom law enforcement officers seek to interrogate, the officers must disclose that fact to the interrogee and inform him in a simple declaratory statement of the charges filed against him before any interrogation,” the court explained. “The officers need not speculate about additional charges that may later be brought or the potential amendment of pending charges.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court went on to find that the Appellate Division’s expansion of the rule stated in A.G.D. is “unwarranted and impractical.” As the court explained:
The principle stated in A.G.D. stands in stark contrast to the Appellate Division’s expanded definition of an arrestee’s Miranda rights. The Appellate Division’s rule relies not on an objective statement of the charges pending against the arrestee, but on an officer’s prediction, based on information learned to date in a developing investigation, of what charges may be filed.
The New Jersey Supreme Court also raised concern that an officer acting in good faith might inadvertently misinform an arrestee as to the charges that he will eventually face. “We do not share the Appellate Division’s conclusion that law enforcement officers can resolve any ambiguities or disputes about charging decisions before a judicial officer has reviewed the showing of probable cause and issued a complaint-warrant or arrest warrant,” the court wrote.
The New Jersey Supreme Court also rejected the argument that failing to adopt the Appellate Division’s new rule, law enforcement officers will deliberately delay seeking a complaint-warrant or arrest warrant in order to avoid disclosing to an arrestee the charges that he faces. “In a case in which there is evidence of such bad-faith conduct on the part of law enforcement officers, the trial court should consider such conduct as part of the totality-of-the-circumstances test,” the court wrote. “The potential for improper conduct by law enforcement to evade A.G.D. and Vincenty, however, does not justify abandoning the core principles of those decisions.” Based on the foregoing, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s application of the totality-of-the- circumstances standard to deny defendant’s motion to suppress his statement. According to the court, the Defendant was read his Miranda rights and waived those rights verbally and in writing.