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State v. Catarra

August 7, 2009

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
REYNA CATARRA, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Indictment No. 08-02-85.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 28, 2009

Before Judges Payne and Waugh.

By leave granted, the State appeals from an order of the trial court suppressing statements made by defendant, Reyna Catarra, prior to being informed of her Miranda*fn1 rights.

On appeal, the State argues:

POINT I

THE DEFENDANT WAS NEITHER IN CUSTODY NOR INTERROGATED DURING INVESTIGATION AND MIRANDA WARNINGS WERE NOT REQUIRED.

The record discloses that, on September 25, 2007, at approximately 6:12 p.m., defendant was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident resulting in injury to the other driver, Josephine Forestiere. State troopers Bogdan and Savnik, together with emergency vehicles and personnel, were called to the scene. Upon the troopers' arrival, Bogdan was informed by Forestiere, who remained trapped in her vehicle, that Catarra had crossed the center line of the highway and had hit her. An independent witness confirmed Forestiere's version of the accident.

Bogdan then proceeded to the location of defendant's car, which was stopped approximately 500 feet from that of Forestiere. Damage to the front left corner of the car was visible, and a door from the Forestiere's vehicle was seen beneath defendant's car. Defendant was seated on the grass by the side of the road being attended to by emergency medical personnel.

After defendant had been medically cleared, Bogdan asked her if she was all right and, then, what had happened. Bogdan responded that she did not remember what had taken place, and that she recalled only a loud bang, at which point the airbags deployed. Bogdan then asked defendant if she had had anything to drink, repeating the question three times, and then asking three times if she had consumed any alcohol. Defendant finally stated that she had drunk one martini. In response to a question by Bogdan, defendant also enumerated her various medications, but stated that she had not taken any of them since the prior night. Defendant's responses were slurred, and she was unable to stand without considerable assistance. A video camera recorded this aspect of the incident.

Shortly thereafter, Bogdan began administering sobriety tests on defendant at a location outside the range of the video camera, but within range of its microphone, which recorded defendant's evidently drunken comments to the police. Defendant was unable to perform any of the tests, and as a consequence, she was arrested. During the course of the drive to the police station, Miranda warnings were administered. At the station, defendant was unable to complete an Alcotest, never producing an adequate breath sample, despite multiple attempts to do so.

Defendant was charged with driving while intoxicated, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; refusal to take a breath test, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2; failure to keep right, N.J.S.A. 39:4-82; and reckless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-96. Subsequently, on September 25, 2007, defendant was charged with the third-degree crime of assault by automobile while driving in an intoxicated state. N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1c(2). Evidence disclosed that Forestiere had sustained a broken hand and multiple lacerations in the crash.

Following indictment, defendant moved for suppression of the statements made by her to the police. A hearing took place, at which Trooper Bogdan testified and the video of the incident was replayed. In a subsequent thoughtful written decision, the trial judge granted defendant's suppression motion, determining that the trooper was authorized to ask defendant what had happened, but that any further questioning regarding alcohol consumption that was likely to produce incriminating statements had to have been prefaced with Miranda warnings. In reaching this conclusion, the judge distinguished the circumstances presented from a routine traffic stop during which Miranda warnings are not required, noting that the troopers were instead "investigating a major traffic accident, one that could and did result in criminal charges." As a consequence of his determination that crucial Miranda warnings had not been given, the judge suppressed all ...


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