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State v. Thomas

Decided: June 4, 1970.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOLORES THOMAS, DEFENDANT. STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF, V. MARIE WILLIAMS, DEFENDANT



Fusco, J.s.c.

Fusco

These are hearings on the admissibility of signed and oral statements allegedly given by defendants Thomas and Williams to one John Allen, an investigator for the Essex County Welfare Board. Both Thomas and Williams are charged in one-count indictments with the crime of obtaining financial assistance by false representations, better known as welfare fraud, under N.J.S.A. 2A:111-3.

Defendants in each instance resist the admissibility of any such statement on the grounds that the procedural safeguards established in Miranda v. Arizona , 384 U.S. 436, 474, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1967)), were not granted. They argue that the statements obtained were not voluntary, were gotten through artifice and trick, and that defendants were the target of an investigation by the welfare authorities.

The State opposes these arguments, relying on the theory that Miranda only applies to custodial interrogation, and that in a case such as this, in which the statements were obtained at defendants' homes, the Miranda rules do not apply.

There is no evidence that this point has previously been litigated in a reported case in this State.

The factual pattern in both cases is similar: Allen, an investigator, was sent to defendants' homes to obtain a

statement which might be used in a criminal proceeding against them. Allen testified on direct examination that he told defendants in each instance that they "had better tell the truth," hinting that the welfare board might take adverse action (as to their welfare payments, presumably) if they did not cooperate. On cross-examination, however, it was adduced that the investigator was to report to the prosecutor's office if he found a paramour living with defendant Thomas and if he found that defendant Williams' children were not living with her.

The court points out, merely in passing, that the mere fact that a paramour is living with a welfare recipient is not grounds on which aid can be eliminated or lessened, unless the man is "legally obligated" to support the child. Lewis v. Martin , 397 U.S. 552, 90 S. Ct. 1282, 25 L. Ed. 2 d 561, 565 (1970). See also, King v. Smith , 392 U.S. 309, 329, 88 S. Ct. 2128, 20 L. Ed. 2 d (1969).

At the outset, it is clear that defendants were targets of potential criminal proceedings. Although Allen indicated to them that only their welfare moneys were in question, in reality, possible criminal actions was the purpose of his visit and it was certainly in his mind when he called on defendants, albeit at their own homes. The situation is strikingly similar to that of the grand jury which, under the guise of a general investigation, in actuality narrows its focus on one individual called before it to testify, unaware of the true purpose of the investigation. See State v. Browning , 19 N.J. 424 (1955). In such a case, where defendant was not apprised of the subject matter of the inquiry, he could not be expected to understand or knowingly waive his privilege against self-incrimination. State v. Sarcone , 96 N.J. Super. 501 (Law Div. 1967).

And, certainly where defendant is the target of the investigation, the action by the investigator becomes a "critical stage" of the proceedings, State v. Williams , 97 N.J. Super. 573, 601 (Law Div. 1967); Miranda, supra , 384 U.S. at 467, 86 S. Ct. 1602, since it is one at which valuable rights

can be waived or where events might prejudice a forthcoming trial. Cf. State v. Vogel , 4 ...


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