The Court continued: A.G.D., detectives questioned the defendant at his home about allegations of sexual abuse. 178 N.J. at 59. The detectives did not tell the defendant that a warrant for his arrest had been issued. The defendant confessed to the alleged sexual abuse and was subsequently convicted of related offenses. Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress his confession. The Court held that the defendant’s confession should have been suppressed because the “government’s 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.” If suspects are not informed that a criminal complaint or arrest warrant has been filed against them, they necessarily lack “critically important information” and thus “the State cannot sustain its burden” of proving a suspect has knowingly and intelligently waived the right against self-incrimination.
A.G.D. thus calls for law enforcement officials to make a simple declaratory statement at the outset of an interrogation that informs a defendant of the essence of the charges filed against him. That information should not be woven into accusatory questions posed during the interview. The State may choose to notify defendants immediately before or after administering Miranda warnings, so long as defendants are aware of the charges pending against them before they are asked to waive the right to self-incrimination.
Vincenty’s interrogation is precisely what A.G.D. prohibits, and it substantiates A.G.D.’s holding. Unaware that charges had been filed against him, Vincenty appeared willing and ready to waive his right against self-incrimination. However, when Vincenty was informed of the criminal charges filed against him, everything changed. His willingness to speak with the detectives dissipated. As that chain of events demonstrates, Vincenty’s ability to knowingly and intelligently decide whether to waive his right against self-incrimination was fundamentally altered when he was informed of the criminal charges filed against him. Withholding that critically important information deprived Vincenty of the ability to knowingly and voluntarily waive the right against self-incrimination.
The New Jersey Supreme Court continued: The trial court and Appellate Division erred in holding Vincenty knowingly and intelligently waived his right against self-incrimination. Consideration of harmless error would not change matters here because some of Vincenty’s statements could be fairly characterized as inculpatory, and Vincenty’s conduct reveals that his decision to plead guilty was influenced by the trial court’s suppression ruling. The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed and the matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
This case demonstrates why the police are trained to not seek arrest warrants before interrogations. When they do, they have the burden to inform defendants of the nature of the charges. This not only provides an additional basis for suppression, but it also disincentives a lot of people from waiving their rights. This is because people often speak to the police because they are told that they can not be informed of the nature of the case against them until they waive their Miranda rights.