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State v. O'Loughlin

Decided: February 15, 1994.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT-CROSS-RESPONDENT,
v.
ELIZABETH O'LOUGHLIN, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT-CROSS-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.

Pressler, Dreier and Kleiner. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kleiner, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned). Dreier, J.A.D. (dissenting).

Kleiner

[270 NJSuper Page 474] This is a cross-appeal of two decisions of the trial court on defendant Elizabeth O'Loughlin's motion to suppress her oral statement and the seizure of her blood on May 19, 1991. The trial court suppressed the seizure of blood, and the State on leave granted appeals that decision. The trial court denied the motion

to suppress defendant's oral statement, and defendant has filed a cross-appeal.*fn1

On January 27, 1992, defendant Elizabeth O'Loughlin was indicted by a Bergen County grand jury charging five counts of criminal conduct: count one, aggravated manslaughter, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a); count two, reckless manslaughter, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b); count three, death by auto, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5; count four, aggravated assault, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); and count five, assault by auto, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c).

The indictment relates to a fatal automobile collision on May 19, 1991 at 12:15 a.m. on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. Defendant was proceeding eastbound toward New York accompanied by a passenger, Charles Greene. She struck the rear of a disabled vehicle which was stopped in the outermost eastbound travel lane. Immediately before the collision, the disabled vehicle's driver, Nakia Wright, age sixteen, was standing at the rear of his vehicle while his passenger, Craig Weinberg, age seventeen, was standing by the right side of the vehicle. The investigators ultimately concluded that the defendant entered the outermost lane and the right front of her vehicle struck the left rear of the disabled automobile. On impact, Wright was pinned between the two automobiles and his vehicle ignited. Weinberg was pushed and became lodged under the defendant's vehicle. Wright was killed and Weinberg was seriously injured. Defendant and her passenger Greene both suffered minor injuries and

were transported by ambulance to Harlem Hospital in New York City. Ultimately, as will be discussed, at approximately 5:00 a.m., O'Loughlin gave an oral statement to investigating police officers of the Port Authority Police Department and submitted to a seizure of blood at approximately 5:30 a.m. at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey. As indicated, defendant moved to suppress this statement and the blood test. This motion was granted as to the blood test and was denied as to the defendant's statement.

On its appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred in suppressing the seizure of blood.

The cross-appeal of defendant raises the following points of error:

POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT'S RULING SUPPRESSING BLOOD TEST EVIDENCE IN THIS CASE WAS SUPPORTED BY SUFFICIENT CREDIBLE EVIDENCE, AND WAS NOT AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION.

POINT II: THE TRIAL COURT, WHICH FOUND AS A FACT THAT DEFENDANT WAS "DETAINED" FOR SEVERAL HOURS BY THE POLICE WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE, ERRED IN FAILING TO SUPPRESS THE EVIDENTIAL USE OF DEFENDANT'S ANSWERS TO POLICE QUESTIONING INSTITUTED WITHOUT MIRANDA WARNINGS AS THE "FRUITS" OF AN ILLEGAL "ARREST".

POINT III: DEFENDANT'S ILLEGAL DETENTION IN NEW YORK AND INVOLUNTARY REMOVAL IN CUSTODY BY POLICE TO NEW JERSEY MANDATES SUPPRESSION OF EVIDENCE SEIZED AS A RESULT OF SUCH ILLEGALITY.

We commence our analysis of these issues by focusing upon the specific ruling of the trial court:

This Court finds that the defendant was detained. There's no question about that, but the Court finds that the defendant's detention constituted nothing more than general on-the-scene questioning, the type that would be allowed during an investigative detention.

We conclude that the detention of the defendant was in fact a custodial detention, and the trial court failed to evaluate properly the evidence presented on the motion to suppress from the perspective of the "objective reasonable person."

In State v. Pierson, 223 N.J. Super. 62, 66-67, 537 A.2d 1340 (App.Div.1988), we concluded:

Miranda warnings are a prerequisite to custodial interrogation, which is "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. [436] at 444, 86 S. Ct. [1602] at 1612 [16 L. Ed. 2d 694]. [1966] However, Miranda is not implicated when the detention and questioning is part of an investigatory procedure rather than a custodial interrogation, United States v. Booth, 669 F. 2d 1231, 1237 (9 Cir.1981); State v. Godfrey, 131 N.J. Super. 168, 175-178 [329 A.2d 75] (App.Div.1974), aff'd o.b., 67 N.J. 267 [337 A.2d 371] (1975), or where the restriction on a defendant's freedom is not of such significance as to render him "in custody." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495, 97 S. Ct. 711, 714, 50 L. Ed. 2d 714 (1977); State v. Seefeldt, 51 N.J. 472, 482 [242 A.2d 322] (1968); State v. Downey, 206 N.J. Super. 382, 396-397 [502 A.2d 1171] (App.Div.1986).

As we indicated in Godfrey, whether a person has been significantly deprived of his freedom so as to trigger Miranda requires a case-by-case approach in which the totality of the attendant circumstances must be examined.

Earlier, in State v. Coburn, 221 N.J. Super. 586, 596, 535 A.2d 531 (App.Div.1987), certif. denied, 110 N.J. 300, 540 A.2d 1281 (1988), this court acknowledged that in New Jersey we recognize the "objective reasonable man test" in evaluating whether questioning is custodial and concluded that "custody exists if the action of the interrogating officers and the surrounding circumstances, fairly construed, would reasonably lead a detainee to believe he could not leave freely." We must therefore look at the totality of the attendant circumstances, State v. Godfrey, supra, 131 N.J. Super. at 177, 329 A.2d 75, in reviewing the facts as they occurred between 12:15 a.m. and approximately 5:00 a.m.

In considering these operative facts, we must carefully evaluate defendant's claims from the perspective of a detainee. We believe our Dissenting colleague has avoided the mandate of State v. Coburn, supra, 221 N.J. Super. at 596, 535 A.2d 531, by analyzing the same series of facts solely from the perspective of the Port Authority Police personnel.

As noted, this collision occurred at 12:15 a.m. Both defendant and Greene were transported by ambulance to Harlem Hospital and arrived at 1:00 a.m. At 1:30 a.m., Port Authority police officer Ronald Veale was dispatched to Harlem Hospital with specific instructions to assist on the "aided report" at the hospital and to obtain accident information concerning defendant's name and driver's

license number. According to testimony at trial, an "aided report" is:

a supplemental report to a motor vehicle report, accident report which basically lists whether an ambulance was called for an injured party, the name of the doctor that treats the injured party, list the injuries or -- and the Disposition of the case, whether the person was kept overnight or released. It is just a report as to a person's medical condition after an accident.

On arrival at Harlem Hospital, Veale discovered O'Loughlin, Greene, and an unknown female (later identified as Sandi Gaspari) engaged in an "animated" conversation with hospital personnel near the doorway to the emergency room. From the demeanor of the group and the tenor of the conversation, Veale was able to conclude that Greene was intoxicated and that O'Loughlin desired to leave Harlem Hospital to obtain medical treatment at another hospital. Defendant was apparently upset that she had been kept waiting and had not yet received any medical attention from the Harlem Hospital employees. Veale informed defendant that inasmuch as Greene was intoxicated, she could not leave with him, but that an ambulance would be summoned to provide defendant with transportation. Veale observed O'Loughlin's injuries were minor lacerations.

Veale testified that when the ambulance failed to arrive, defendant, Greene, and Gaspari left the hospital in Gaspari's vehicle. Veale claimed that he followed Gaspari's vehicle in a patrol car as it proceeded to circle the block. When it arrived back at the emergency room entrance, the three occupants exited the vehicle and reentered the hospital. Veale offered no explanation as to why he followed Gaspari's vehicle or whether he had inquired as to the reason why the trio returned to Harlem Hospital. He concluded his direct testimony by indicating that he was relieved at 3:00 a.m. by Port Authority police officer William Curran. Veale offered no testimony respecting the demeanor of the defendant.

On cross-examination, Veale admitted, "I wouldn't let her leave when she I thought [sic] Mr. Green was going to drive her. That's the only time I wouldn't let her leave." However, Veale also acknowledged that in his written report he wrote, "I informed

them that they had to wait, an ambulance was on the way to transport them." Cross-examination also established that Veale never prepared an "aided report," and never asked any questions concerning the defendant's name or driver's license number as per his original instructions.

Veale's rendition of the events between his arrival at approximately 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., when he was relieved by Officer Curran, was substantially contradicted by Sandi Gaspari. Gaspari indicated she was summoned by a telephone call from passenger Greene while at her home and was requested to provide transportation assistance. On arrival at Harlem Hospital, she found O'Loughlin, Greene, and a police officer engaged in a conversation at the hospital entrance. 0 her actual testimony is noteworthy:

Q And what happened when you got there, what did you do?

A I started talking to Elizabeth and asked her what happened and said, "Are you ready to go?" She went to leave and the cop would not let her leave.

Q What do you mean? Just tell us what was said and what happened?

A There was a lot of arguing why can't she leave, she has to stay here, this was a big accident.

Q Who said that?

A The police officer.

Q Go on.

A Well, is she under arrest? No, she is not. Well, then she's leaving with me. No, she can't. I said, "Well, you know, she's not under arrest, she can leave with me. Come on, Elizabeth," and when we started walking, "You'll be under arrest, all three of you. She cannot leave. She is under our care."

Gaspari also contradicted Officer Veale when she testified that she left Harlem Hospital alone and drove around the block to pick up defendant and Greene at the hospital exit. On finding that defendant and Greene were not at the exit, she reentered the hospital and discovered O'Loughlin and Veale engaged in a conversation during which Veale indicated to defendant that she could either travel to Englewood Hospital with Veale or be escorted 1 there by another police officer, but O'Loughlin could not leave with Gaspari.

Officer Curran testified that after his arrival at Harlem Hospital at 3:00 a.m., when he relieved Veale, he attempted without success

to locate a taxicab to transport defendant to Englewood Hospital. When a taxi could not be found in the hospital area, Curran offered to drive the trio to a taxi stand near the George Washington Bridge. He indicated that O'Loughlin suggested that the trio leave in Gaspari's vehicle and that he informed defendant that Greene would be arrested if Greene drove Gaspari's vehicle due to his apparent intoxication.

When Gaspari offered to drive, Curran asked to inspect Gaspari's driver's license. After looking at the license, he advised O'Loughlin either to stay at Harlem Hospital or to travel with him in his police vehicle to a taxi stand. Curran's responses to the prosecutor's questioning are significant:

Q What happens now?

A I told -- I asked her to get in the police car . . . . Miss O'Loughlin wanted to go with her friends and then I pleaded with her to get into the car.

Q Now, does there come a point in time where she asked you whether or not she's under arrest?

A Yes, 2 she did.

Q And please tell the Court how that ...


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