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State v. Diaz

February 27, 1998

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
SIOBHAN DIAZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Argued January 13, 1998

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

Before Judges Stern, Kleiner and Kimmelman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern, J.A.D.

We granted leave to appeal to consider the admissibility of a videotape, which includes a sound recording, made by parents in their own home of the conduct of their child's daytime "nanny." We now affirm the denial of defendant's motion to suppress. In so doing, we recognize that a violation of the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act ("the Wiretap Act" or "the Act"), N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-1 to -34, may require that evidence be suppressed even in the absence of a state or federal constitutional violation or the ability of a defendant to successfully obtain suppression of evidence under R. 3:5-7, the motion to suppress rule. See N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-21; see also, e.g., State v. Robinson, 224 N.J. Super. 495, 499-501 (App. Div. 1988).

I.

Defendant was indicted for second degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (count one), and second degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a (count two), after the parents of the infant child for whom she was hired to care contracted with a private company to install an audio-video surveillance system in their own home. They did so after noticing bruises on the infant's body which defendant could not explain when asked about their origins. *fn1 For present purposes, we must assume that the videotape reveals both physical and verbal abuse because the State seeks admission of portions of the recording depicting such conduct. The videotape was turned over to the prosecutor, and following her indictment, defendant moved to suppress both the video and audio portions of the videotape. She argued that the recording constituted a violation of the Act. The Law Division denied the motion after it determined that, although the Act applied to a videotape recording with a sound component, because of "the simultaneous use of a camera and a microphone," the recording in this case was admissible under the "consent" exception to the statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-4d.

Defendant argues that strict statutory construction required of the Wiretap Act prevents the recognition of the "vicarious consent" theory adopted by the trial Judge. Although agreeing with the trial Judge's conclusion, the State contends that a videotape surveillance does not fall within the purview of the Act. However, it advocates application of the "vicarious consent" theory if we conclude that it does.

We agree with the State that the video portion of the recording does not come within the scope of the Wiretap Act. We disagree with its position as to the Act's application with regard to the audio portion of the videotape, but conclude that it is admissible because of the Act's "consent" provision.

II.

There is little material dispute as to the governing facts of this case for purposes of the motion to suppress.

In January 1996, J.S. and D.S., the parents of five-month old T.S., hired defendant as a daytime nanny to care for their infant daughter. Defendant began working in their Randolph home in February 1996. The parents "soon became concerned about how defendant was treating their daughter. They noticed bruises on [the infant] that defendant could not explain." Because of their concern, the parents hired "Babywatch," a private company, to have video surveillance equipment installed in their home. On May 2, 1996, the camera, with sound recording capabilities, was installed in their family room, disguised as part of an air filtration system.

A videotape recording was made on May 2 and May 3, 1996. In the words of the trial Judge, "hen the parents viewed a videotape of May 3rd, they saw Ms. Diaz slap [the infant] in the head, stuff a blanket into the baby's mouth as she screamed out, and twist her leg." According to the State:

The surveillance camera confirmed [the parents'] fears on May 2, 1996, the first day it was in operation. [The infant] had trouble napping. At about 4 p.m., defendant told the baby to "ive it up." She hit the baby three times on the head with the heel of her left palm. She stuffed a blanket into [the infant's] mouth and left it there for about 40 seconds. She yelled at [the infant]:

Stop f[---]ing pissing and moaning. Stop it. I'll give you something to f[---]ing scream about, bitch.

She grabbed [the infant], twisted her right knee and

said, "Why don't you stay sleeping?" The videotape also captured defendant's portion of her telephone conversations on a cordless phone, parts of which could be heard while the surveillance was otherwise focused on the family room.

III.

Defendant contends that the videotape must be suppressed because the recording was made in violation of the New Jersey Wiretapping and ...


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