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State v. Stott

December 21, 2000

STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM STOTT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Before Judges Havey, Wefing and Lefelt.

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

Argued: September 18, 2000

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

After the trial court denied defendant's motions to suppress physical evidence seized and oral statements he provided to the police, defendant entered a plea of guilty to one count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1). The trial court sentenced defendant to a probationary term of five years, conditioned, inter alia, on defendant serving 364 days in the Camden County Correctional Facility. Defendant's sentence was stayed, pending this appeal in which defendant argues the trial court erred in denying his motions. After a careful review of the record presented in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm, although not for the reasons expressed by the trial court.

On September 23, 1997, defendant was admitted to Ancora State Psychiatric Hospital, a facility operated by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, following his involuntary commitment pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.10. An individual is not subject to involuntary commitment unless that individual is "mentally ill and . . . dangerous to self or dangerous to others or property . . . ." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.9.

Upon his arrival at Ancora, defendant was a patient in Larch Hall, and was assigned to C ward, dormitory 216. Within that dormitory, he shared room A with another patient, James Hilliard. During the evening of October 7, 1997, defendant and Hilliard shared a quantity of heroin and consumed two Xanax tablets each and thereafter went to bed. When defendant awoke, he discovered that Hilliard died during the night, apparently from the drugs. When the hospital staff found Hilliard's body, they summoned both the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the Human Services Police to investigate the circumstances of Hilliard's then-unexplained death. The room was secured and access restricted to investigators and hospital staff until Hilliard's body was removed shortly after 10:00 a.m.

Sergeant Jim Koslowsky of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office arrived at the hospital at approximately 8:45 a.m. All of the patients in the area, including defendant, had been removed from their rooms and were in the dayroom. Koslowsky began a series of interviews to determine what had happened.

At approximately 1:00 p.m., Koslowsky interviewed Anthony Fisher, a patient who occupied the room across the hall from Hilliard and defendant. Fisher told Koslowsky that defendant had, the previous evening, offered to sell him Xanax pills but that he, Fisher, had refused. Fisher also told Koslowsky that defendant had said that he kept the pills hidden in the hem of the curtain in the room he shared with Hilliard. Koslowsky immediately got up and, together with Officer Douglas of the Human Services Police, who was present at the interview, went into defendant's room and the two examined the curtain hem. There they discovered four Xanax pills, which they promptly seized.

At approximately 2:00 p.m., Koslowsky interviewed defendant who said that he had given money to Hilliard to obtain heroin for the two of them to share. Defendant said the pills in the curtain hem had belonged to Hilliard but he admitted offering to sell them to Fisher. During the course of the interview, defendant was told several times that he was free to leave; at no time was he advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed.2d 694 (1966). When defendant finished his statement, Koslowsky had to leave for another investigation that was in progress. He told Officers Douglass and Eickmeyer to tape defendant's statement. They did so, again telling defendant he could leave but not advising him of his Miranda rights. At the end of the tape-recorded statement, he was asked if he had given his statement voluntarily, and he responded that he did not feel he was "ready to speak to police at all today but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."

On October 22, 1997, defendant was transferred from Ancora to Maryville Hospital for alcohol and drug rehabilitation. On October 24, 1997, he was returned to Ancora for another, third interview. At this interview, he was again told he was free to leave and was not given any Miranda warnings. In this interview, he again said he and Hilliard had shared heroin and that they had taken Xanax as well. He denied trying to sell the Xanax to other patients.

Criminal charges were filed against defendant on October 30, 1997, and, in April 1998, defendant was indicted for possession of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1), and possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(13).

On appeal, defendant makes the following arguments: Point I Where police learn that involuntarily committed State Hospital mental patient has contraband hidden in his hospital room, may [they] dispense with the warrant requirement where the room [is] locked and secured and no exigency prevents getting a search warrant.

Sub-Point A

The [trial] court erred in finding a diminished expectation of privacy dispensing with warrant requirement in publicly funded mental hospital room where publicly funded legislature had provided pervasive legislative scheme and "Patient's Bill of Rights" disseminated to State mental patients pursuant to state law and regulations seek to bolster such patients' privacy expectations thus establishing a societal norm objectively supporting the reasonableness of Defendant's privacy expectations regarding his hospital room's contents from ...


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