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State v. Helewa

Decided: February 18, 1988.


On Appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.

Michels, Shebell and Gaynor. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D. Shebell, J.A.D., concurring in part and dissenting in result.


[223 NJSuper Page 41] Pursuant to leave granted by this court, defendant George C. Helewa, Sr. appeals from an order of the Law Division that

denied his motion to suppress his statement to a Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) caseworker during an interview conducted after he was arrested on charges of sexually abusing his two teenage daughters. The pivotal issue posed by this appeal is whether, in the circumstances here present, the Miranda doctrine requires a DYFS caseworker to administer Miranda warnings prior to conducting a custodial interview.*fn1

The record shows that at approximately 11:00 a.m. on October 8, 1985, defendant was arrested by Detective Casey Lenning (Lenning) and several other officers of the Old Bridge Township Police Department and charged with sexually assaulting his two daughters, ages 13 and 15. Defendant was taken to the Old Bridge Police Headquarters where he was advised of his Miranda rights and given a Miranda warning card by Lenning. Defendant read and signed the card in the presence of the officers. At this time defendant did not request an attorney. He was not questioned by the officers and was not asked if he wanted to make a statement. After spending approximately five hours at Old Bridge Police Headquarters, defendant was transferred to the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center (Corrections Center).

The following day, on October 9, 1985, while confined at the Corrections Center, defendant was interviewed for approximately one hour and 15 minutes by Ms. Joanne Miller (Miller), a DYFS caseworker. Although Ms. Miller had requested to speak to defendant about the sex abuse allegations on October 8, 1985, after interviewing his wife and daughters the previous evening, she was told by the Old Bridge Police to postpone the interview of defendant, "because they had some criminal matters that they had to take care of with him first." After defendant had been arrested and incarcerated on October 8th, Ms. Miller stopped by headquarters and picked up a copy of the complaint as well as the Miranda card which defendant had

signed. Thus, Ms. Miller was aware that defendant had been advised of his rights when she arrived at the Corrections Center on October 9th.

The interview between defendant and Ms. Miller took place in a small office or "Special Needs Pod" within the Corrections Center, but outside of the presence of the police or the prison guards. Ms. Miller introduced herself as a DYFS caseworker and explained that she needed to discuss the allegations of sexual abuse with him. Defendant, however, expressed reservations about discussing these allegations and told Ms. Miller that "he had talked with his two lawyers and he had talked to his father and he had talked to his girlfriend Jean Darpino and he wasn't sure if his lawyer would get mad at him for speaking to [her]." In response, Ms. Miller told him that "he should do what he thought was best" and explained that although she did not work for the prosecutor's office or the police department, a copy of his statement would be sent to the prosecutor's office.

Ms. Miller did not pressure defendant into talking or indicate that the interview would be for his benefit. However, she did tell him, "You can talk to me, this is part of the investigation", to which defendant apparently responded, "I don't know whether my lawyer will be mad at me or not but I have nothing to lose so I'm going to talk to you." Although defendant was aware at this time that he did not have to talk to her and that he had the right to have an attorney present, he was not re-advised of his Miranda rights by Ms. Miller prior to giving the interview. The interview lasted an hour and 15 minutes. Eventually, Ms. Miller turned defendant's statement over to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.

On April 1, 1986, defendant was indicted by the Middlesex County Grand Jury and charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a) and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child (N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a). Following his not guilty plea to the indictment, defendant moved to suppress the statement given to the DYFS caseworker pursuant to R.

3:13-1(b). The trial court denied the motion, reasoning, in part, that:

In view of the purpose of Miranda, the fact that DYFS is not a law enforcement agency or arm of the police, that the statement made by defendant was voluntarily given, that there was no coercion or physical force applied, that defendant was aware of his rights and availability of his attorney, and the nature of the offense, I find that no Miranda warnings had to be issued by Ms. Miller of DYFS, and that the voluntary statement made by defendant is admissible as evidence.

I find that Detective Lenning gave appropriate Miranda warnings to George Helewa, Sr., on October 8, 1985. Ms. Miller, a DYFS worker employed by the State of New Jersey, is not a law enforcement officer as defined under the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 [86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694] (1966). Defendant was fully informed by Ms. Miller of her purpose, he was told the interview was not confidential, he was not physically or psychologically coerced, he realized his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and he freely and voluntarily conversed with Ms. Miller. Considering the circumstances, Mr. Helewa freely, intelligently, and knowingly waived his right to silence. I find his statements to Ms. Miller admissible as evidence.

We granted defendant leave to appeal.


The Fifth Amendment, made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that "[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself." In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), the United States Supreme Court announced the rule which is now a recognized standard of Fifth Amendment protection against overbearing and coercive police interrogation:

It is undisputed that defendant was not re-advised by Ms. Miller of his Miranda rights prior to giving her a statement while in

custody. Thus, in order to determine whether this statement was the product of an unconstitutional custodial interrogation, it is necessary to consider whether a DYFS caseworker, under the circumstances here present, should be equated with a "law enforcement officer" for the purposes of the Fifth Amendment safeguards mandated by Miranda and its progeny. If so, unless the DYFS caseworker advises defendant of his Miranda rights before obtaining a statement from him ...

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