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State v. Rodas

February 27, 2007

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DYLAN RODAS, DEFENDANT,
AND DONALD SONNYLAL, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
DYLAN RODAS, DEFENDANT,
AND DONALD SONNYLAL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Indictment No. 05-04-738-I.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 16, 2007

Before Judges Lintner and Seltzer.

On leave granted, the State and defendant each appeal from provisions of a May 16, 2006, order that granted in part and denied in part defendant's motion to suppress evidence. The appeals have been consolidated for purposes of this opinion.

We affirm on both appeals.

The evidence at issue was (a) an oral statement made by defendant in which he admitted to leasing an apartment in Hackensack, (b) approximately 125 marijuana plants that were found in the Hackensack apartment, and (c) a hand-written statement given by defendant at the Bergen County Police Department in which defendant confessed to owning and growing the marijuana.

The motion judge, after an evidentiary hearing, delivered an oral opinion on May 9, 2006, holding (a) that the initial statement admitting an interest in the Hackensack apartment was not preceded by necessary Miranda*fn1 warnings and must be suppressed, (b) that the search of the Hackensack apartment was not authorized by defendant's voluntary and knowing consent and must be suppressed, and (c) that the handwritten confession was admissible. The State appeals from the first two decisions and defendant appeals from the third.

Our review of a judge's resolution of a motion to suppress requires us to determine if the judge's factual findings are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and if appropriate conclusions of law were drawn from those findings. If that is the case, the decision may not be disturbed. State v. Watson, 261 N.J. Super. 169, 177 (App. Div. 1992) certif. denied, 133 N.J. 441 (1993); State v. Boone, 114 N.J. Super. 521, 525 (App. Div.) (citing State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146 (1964)), certif. denied sub nom. State v. Terry, 58 N.J. 595 (1971). Accordingly, we review the evidence developed at the suppression hearing to determine if the judge's conclusions have a sufficient evidential basis.

The facts relating to the motion were developed in a sixday hearing in March 2006. The evidence revealed that the police had obtained information that contraband was located in a Hackensack apartment, which they were also told was leased by defendant. The police did not know if they had sufficient information to obtain a warrant.*fn2 Instead of attempting to obtain a warrant, the police went to defendant's home in River Edge for the purpose of obtaining defendant's consent to search the Hackensack apartment and to determine if he was the lessee of the unit. Three police officers arrived at defendant's home in River Edge sometime before 9:00 a.m. on January 15, 2005. The officers asked to speak to defendant, who came to the door wearing pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, without shoes, jacket or socks. He spoke briefly to the police and then walked outside with them.

While he was speaking with the officers, "one was to his left, one was to his right, one was in front of him." In response to a question, defendant admitted being the lessee of the Hackensack apartment and agreed to allow the police to search it. Defendant was not advised verbally that he had the right to refuse. Defendant's mother, who witnessed the events, testified that defendant executed a written form acknowledging his consent without reading it. The evidence also permitted a finding that defendant was outside with the police for less than one minute. After signing the consent to search, defendant "asked . . . if he could go back in and get sneakers and a coat." The police agreed and defendant re-entered his home accompanied by an officer wearing a ski hat.

Defendant was then transported to the Hackensack apartment where the marijuana plants were found, plainly visible from the hall. Defendant was then arrested and given Miranda warnings. He was returned to the Bergen County Police Department where he was again given Miranda warnings. He ultimately provided a handwritten statement at approximately 7:00 p.m. acknowledging his ownership of the plants.

On these facts, the motion judge determined that defendant's admission of his interest in the Hackensack apartment was improperly elicited without the prior administration of the Miranda warnings. The court found that the detective admitted that [defendant] was a suspect in the case prior to him allowing the consent to search the apartment. Any statements, therefore, made by [defendant] should be stricken based on the failure to apply his Miranda warnings prior to speaking to him on the issue of CDS manufacture and/or distribution.

Miranda warnings are only required when there is a custodial interrogation. State v. Graves, 60 N.J. 441, 448 (1972) (citing State v. Williams, 59 N.J. 493, 501 n.1 (1971)); State v. Lacaillade, 266 N.J. Super. 522, 527-28 (App. Div. 1993) (citing Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495, 97 S.Ct. 711, 714, 50 L.Ed. 2d 714, 719(1977)). We agree with the judge that the ...


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