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State v. Stephenson

May 06, 2002

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
UMOJA STEPHENSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, 99-4-928-I.

Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez, Lefelt and Lisa.

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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted March 13, 2002

We are called upon in this case to measure the limits of the public safety exception to the Miranda *fn1 rule. No New Jersey case has previously addressed whether the exception can apply to unwarned custodial interrogation about the presence and whereabouts of a gun believed to be in a private location. We conclude the exception can apply in such a situation. However, the circumstances in this case do not warrant its application, and the trial judge erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress.

After defendant's suppression motion was denied, he pled guilty to third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and -5b(3)) and second-degree possession of a firearm while in the course of violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1a). Pursuant to a plea agreement, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment on the weapons offense and a concurrent four years imprisonment on the CDS offense. Appropriate monetary sanctions and loss of driving privileges were imposed.

On appeal, defendant argues:

POINT ONE

THE FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THIS CASE DO NOT SUPPORT THE MOTION COURT'S FINDING THAT THE REQUIREMENT TO ADVISE DEFENDANT OF HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND FOR A WARRANT TO SEARCH WERE OBVIATED BY THE PUBLIC SAFETY EXCEPTION. ADDITIONALLY, DEFENDANT WAS COERCED INTO REVEALING THE LOCATION OF THE EVIDENCE SEIZED. (U.S. CONST. Amends. IV, V and XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947) Art. I, Par. 7).

A. The Public Safety Exception To The Miranda Rule Was Misapplied In This Case.

B. Additionally, Defendant Can Not Be Deemed To Have Consented To The Search Of The Dresser Drawer As He Was Coerced Into Revealing The Location Of The Evidence Seized.

We agree and reverse.*fn2

At the motion hearing, Officer Barry Dubrosky and defendant testified. The judge credited Dubrosky's testimony and discredited defendant's. His factual findings are supported by adequate and substantial evidence in the record, State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470-71 (1999); State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964), and are essentially as follows.

On January 22, 1999 at approximately 7:30 a.m., Barbara Williams called the Neptune police, reporting a threat to her son, Vernon. When the police arrived, Barbara was upset and explained that Vernon had an argument on the telephone with someone known as Moe, who threatened to put a bullet into Vernon. Using her "Star 69" feature, Barbara learned that the call to her home had originated at the Crystal Inn Motel (motel). Vernon and his brother had left before the police arrived, apparently going to the motel. Barbara's brother had also left, after the "Star 69" inquiry, to look for his nephews. While the police were still at the Williams' home, they heard a radio dispatch reporting a call from ...


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