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State v. Adams

Decided: May 11, 1992.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
EARL ADAMS, A/K/A KAHLID, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Clifford, J. Handler, J., Concurring. Handler, J., Concurring in result.

Clifford

A jury convicted defendant, Earl Adams, of purposeful or knowing murder and of four weapons-possession charges. He contends that the trial court's admission of his oral statements in response to a police interrogation was reversible error because he had not validly waived his constitutional protection against self-incrimination. At the interrogation he had refused to sign a written statement but had volunteered to discuss the events surrounding the victim's death.

The Appellate Division affirmed the convictions, and we granted defendant's petition for certification, 126 N.J. 321, 598 A.2d 881 (1991). We hold that defendant's invocation of his right to silence for written statements only did not preclude admission of oral statements that he made at his interrogation. We therefore affirm.

-I-

The events leading up to the death of the victim, Joseph Beaulieu, originated in what has come to be recognized as "a drug deal gone bad." The victim's friend, Arnold, gave defendant $80 in exchange for cocaine. Believing that he had been "short-weighted," Arnold, accompanied by Beaulieu and two women, confronted defendant. According to the State, when questioned by Beaulieu, Adams produced a gun and shot the victim. According to Adams, he was unarmed when Beaulieu and the others complained angrily about the drug transaction. He testified at trial that Beaulieu had brandished a gun and had hit defendant with it. Beaulieu then dropped the gun, and although several people lunged for it, defendant picked it up. Just then, Arnold swung a machete, which hit defendant's hand and caused the gun to fire accidentally. The bullet struck and killed Beaulieu.

Defendant fled from the scene. The police obtained a warrant for his arrest, and defendant surrendered three days after the shooting.

On turning himself in, defendant was immediately placed under arrest by Detective William Thomas, who informed him of his rights as required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966). Detective Thomas then gave defendant a form to read, entitled "Preamble to Signed Statements (Miranda Warning)." At the officer's request, defendant read the first line aloud to demonstrate literacy; he then read the rest to himself. The form listed defendant's rights and contained a waiver. Defendant told Detective Thomas that although he did not wish to sign a written statement, he would talk about the incident. He then wrote on the form "I do not wish to give a statement at this time," and signed it.

Defendant thereupon told the officer that Beaulieu had approached him with a machete, demanding that defendant return the $80 that Arnold had given him, and that defendant had turned to run away, had taken the gun, and had shot over his shoulder.

A grand jury returned an indictment charging Adams with knowing and purposeful murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2); first-degree armed robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; two counts of third-degree unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; and two counts of second-degree possession of a handgun for unlawful use against another person, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a.

Defendant sought to suppress the oral statement he had made during the interrogation. At a Miranda hearing, Detective Thomas testified that he had inferred from their conversation that defendant had intended to invoke only his right not to make a written statement. Cross-examination produced the following exchange between defense counsel and Detective Thomas:

Q. Did you make him aware that your records, you would then tell the jury what he said?

A. I once again repeat he understood that, and I told him that.

Q. How did he indicate he understood that?

A. By his conversation telling me, well, okay, but I am not going to give you a signed statement, and the man is intelligent enough, impressed me to be intelligent enough to understand what I am telling him.

Q. Did you tell him that the oral statement can be used against him in a court of law?

A. I repeat again, I told him that what he told me would be incorporated in my record and I would have to testify from my records in court.

Q. How did you learn from [defendant] he knew [that an oral statement would be used and given to the jury]?

A. I am talking to him, it's my impression from him he knows I am telling him I am going to incorporate what he is telling me. He says all right, but I am not going to give you a signed statement. He knew the difference between a signed statement and my report.

In denying the motion to suppress, the trial court made the following findings of fact: (1) Detective Thomas properly informed defendant of his constitutional rights; (2) defendant read those rights and signed them with an indication of his refusal to give a statement; (3) although defendant refused to sign any written statement, he indicated a willingness to tell the officer what had happened and attempted to exculpate himself by telling the officer that Beaulieu had attacked him with a machete and defendant had shot over his shoulder; (4) defendant made his oral statements after being advised of his constitutional rights; and (5) defendant fully understood his constitutional rights and did not intend to give a written statement but only to tell his version of the events leading to Beaulieu's death.

The jury acquitted defendant of robbery but convicted on the other charges. The trial court sentenced defendant to life in prison with thirty years' parole ineligibility for the murder, four years' imprisonment for unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit, and seven years' imprisonment for unlawful possession of a handgun for unlawful use against another person, the latter sentences to run concurrently with the murder sentence. For sentencing purposes, the court merged the duplicative weapons-possession charges. The court also assessed $90 in Violent Crimes Compensation Board penalties.

On appeal defendant claimed that the trial court had improperly admitted his oral statements made at the interrogation; that improper conduct by the prosecutor during his closing argument had prejudiced defendant's state and federal fair-trial rights; that the trial court should have charged passion/provocation manslaughter; that the trial court had abused its discretion by admitting a prior conviction to impeach defendant if he testified at trial; and that the trial court had committed reversible error by allowing an investigator from the prosecutor's office to offer expert testimony regarding ballistics.

The Appellate Division affirmed in an unreported opinion. The court found that defendant had waived his right to silence "knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently" and that the police had scrupulously honored his right to remain silent. We limited our grant of defendant's petition for certification to the single issue of whether police conduct at defendant's interrogation had violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination. We hold that under both federal constitutional law and State common law, defendant's invocation of his right to silence only for written statements did not preclude admission of oral statements he had made at his interrogation.

-II-

-A-

Federal and state courts have developed an intricate body of law addressing the means and effect of a suspect's waiver of the constitutional rights of silence and of counsel (also an integral part of New Jersey's common law. See, e.g., State v. Hartley, 103 N.J. 252, 260, 511 A.2d 80 (1986).). The United States Supreme Court stated in Miranda, supra, that procedural safeguards were necessary "to assure that the exercise of the right [of silence] will be scrupulously honored [.]" 384 U.S. at 478-79, 86 S. Ct. at 1630, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 726 (emphasis added). In Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96, 96 S. Ct. 321, 46 L. Ed. 2d 313 (1975), that Court found that police had scrupulously honored the defendant's invocation of the right to silence

when they ceased questioning after the defendant's invocation of his rights, waited more than two hours after that invocation, and issued fresh Miranda warnings before questioning the defendant about a crime unrelated to the one about which he had asserted the right ...


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