On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FJ-13-534-08A.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and LeWinn.
The juvenile T.R.B. appeals from the January 14, 2008 final adjudication of delinquency entered in the Family Part, which resulted in his placement on probation for one year, a $2000 fine and a six-month suspension of his driver's license; T.R.B. was found in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-3 for creating a false public alarm.
On appeal, T.R.B. argues that (1) the trial judge erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made to police officers, pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct., 1602 16 L.Ed. 2d, 694 (1966); and (2) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. We concur with T.R.B.'s first contention, and accordingly, reverse the final adjudication. Therefore, we need not reach his second argument.
The pertinent facts may be summarized as follows. On August 7, 2007, Officers Steven Keller and Andrew Micalizzi of the Middletown Township Police Department responded to a residence in Port Monmouth in response to a report from the Rahway Police Department that a suicide hotline in the Midwest had received a call from individuals who had stated that they wanted to shoot themselves. That call had been traced to a cell phone which, in turn, was traced to the Port Monmouth address.
The Rahway Police Department gave the Middletown Police Department T.R.B.'s name as the owner of the cell phone.
When Keller and Micalizzi arrived at the residence, Keller had his dispatch officer call the occupant, Mrs. N. to advise her to come to the front door, because Keller was concerned that the caller may have had a gun. When Mrs. N. opened the door, Keller asked her if "T." was at home and she stated that he was not. Keller explained why he was there, and Mrs. N. became very upset at hearing that T.R.B. had threatened to shoot himself; she is T.R.B.'s grandmother.
With the grandmother's agreement, Keller put out a missing persons report for T.R.B. He and Micalizzi then left the grandmother's residence to search for T.R.B. at locations where Mrs. N. said he might be found. Before leaving, however, Keller advised Mrs. N. that if T.R.B. returned, she was to contact the police without T.R.B.'s knowledge, because "in the event that [T.R.B.] did have a gun and was going to do it, it could complicate the situation if he knew prior that [the police] were going to be arriving and what [they] were going to be looking for."
In response to the missing persons report issued by Keller, at least ten police officers became involved in the search for T.R.B. that evening. At approximately 8:30 p.m., Keller was advised that Mrs. N. had contacted police headquarters to report that T.R.B. had returned home, and Keller and Micalizzi went back to the residence to speak with T.R.B. Initially, the two officers spoke to T.R.B. in the living room with his grandmother present.
Keller asked T.R.B. if he intended to hurt or kill himself, and he responded that he did not. At that point, Keller stated that his "main goal was to make sure that this young man didn't want to hurt himself."
When T.R.B. appeared to become uncomfortable talking in front of his grandmother, she offered to leave. Keller advised her that she did not have to leave and that he did not normally speak to a juvenile outside the presence of the guardian; however, Mrs. N. left the living room at that point.
In the following colloquy with the prosecutor, Keller described what transpired next:
Q: At any point were you accusatory?
Q: Now getting into the specifics of what you were asking him. What did he initially say to you when you asked him if he wanted to kill himself?
Q: What . . . if anything did he say when you confronted him with the accusation a crank call was made from his phone to a suicide hotline?
A: He said he didn't have his phone the whole time, that one of his friends must have done it. He said that he ...