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State of New Jersey v. Daniel Twian Brown

January 25, 2011


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Rabner


(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

State v. Daniel Twian Brown


Argued October 12, 2010

Decided January 25, 2011

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER, writing for a unanimous Court.

In this appeal, the Court examines the validity of a warrantless arrest and its impact on defendant's post-arrest statements to the police.

On December 31, 2004, law enforcement officials were investigating several robberies and thefts in Hackensack and nearby towns when they received a call about an unsuccessful attempt to rob a gas station. A police officer saw and followed a car matching the description of a vehicle used in an earlier robbery. The car stopped and its occupants ran. The officer pursued and arrested the last man out of the car, Kenyatta Clarke. Clarke implicated Brown and others, leading to three more arrests. The others also gave incriminating statements implicating Brown.

On January 1, 2005, Detective Patrick Coffey prepared five complaints against Brown. Four of them sought authorization to arrest Brown for burglary, theft, robbery, and weapons possession offenses; they listed Brown's last known address. The fifth complaint charged him with resisting arrest and listed the address of his girlfriend, Chastity Connor. The detective left the complaints at the front desk, the usual practice at the department. It is undisputed that at the time of Brown's arrest, no judicial officer had reviewed the complaints or authorized Brown's arrest. That evening, officers went to Connor's apartment to arrest Brown. A telephone call to Connor alerted Brown that police were outside the building. When the police knocked, Connor opened the door and Brown fled through a window onto an adjacent roof. Following a twenty-minute standoff, police convinced Brown to come down. They then arrested him and took him to headquarters.

Detective Coffey testified that Brown was orally advised of his Miranda rights. Police tried to interview him, but the sessions were unproductive and he was taken to the cell block for the night. Captain Lomia testified that the next day, he read Miranda warnings to Brown and had him initial and sign a waiver form. Brown then admitted his involvement in two armed robberies and two auto thefts. Captain Lomia typed Brown's statements in a question-and-answer format. Brown then reviewed, initialed, and signed the printed statement. Later, police officers from Englewood, River Edge, Garfield, and Lodi interrogated Brown. Each interview followed the same pattern: Brown waived his Miranda rights in writing, made incriminating statements, and reviewed and signed typewritten versions of those statements.

On January 3, 2005, a Hackensack Municipal Court administrator reviewed Detective Coffey's complaints for the first time and authorized arrest warrants for Brown. January 3 fell on a Monday after a holiday weekend, and no evidence suggests the police deliberately sought to avoid having a judicial officer evaluate the complaints. The complaints did not contain any information about Brown that justified his arrest. The police reports attached to the complaints for Brown's arrest for robbery, car theft, and gun offenses did not even mention him by name.

A grand jury indicted Brown and others for multiple counts of armed robbery and numerous other offenses. Brown moved to suppress his statements, arguing that his arrest was unlawful because the warrants were not authorized until after the arrest, that his subsequent statements were thus inadmissible, and that he did not waive his Miranda rights. The State countered that even if the warrants were invalid, the police had probable cause to arrest Brown based on prior statements implicating Brown by his co-defendants. The State also claimed that by jumping out of the window, Brown's conduct amounted to obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, which justified his arrest. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. It found that police had probable cause to arrest Brown based on his co-defendants' statements, his flight from the apartment, and the standoff with police. The court also rejected Brown's testimony on credibility grounds and found that he knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.

A jury convicted Brown. The court sentenced him to an aggregate term of life imprisonment plus forty-one years. On appeal, the Appellate Division concluded that because the arrest warrants were not issued until two days after Brown's arrest, the police did not have "lawful authority to arrest" him on January 1, 2005. However, the panel found that Brown's Miranda rights were honored; that his confession was sufficiently attenuated from his unlawful arrest; and, thus, that Brown's statements were properly admitted. The Supreme Court granted Brown's petition for certification limited to the issue of whether his custodial statements were admissible. 201 N.J. 155 (2010). It also granted the State's cross-petition, in which it argued that Brown's arrest was lawful. 204 N.J. 38 (2010).

HELD: At the time Brown fled through a window onto a roof next door, the police had engaged in no misconduct; thus, there was no seizure of any sort in the apartment. When the police arrested Brown after he came down from the roof, they did not need an arrest warrant because they had probable cause to arrest him in a public place(1) for armed robbery committed outside their presence and (2) for resisting arrest, which they observed.

1. The United States and New Jersey Constitutions protect the right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. Arrest warrants and warrantless arrests in public must be supported by probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and the person sought to be arrested committed the offense. The statements of Brown's co-defendants implicating him in armed robberies meet that test. The parties do not dispute the existence of probable cause. They focus on whether the arrest was lawful in light of the defective arrest warrants. Without a warrant, the State must prove the overall reasonableness of an arrest. Warrants are not always required; for example, felony arrests in public places and supported by probable cause can be valid without a warrant. Also, under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-152.1, full-time police officers have authority to arrest for crimes committed in their presence. (pp. 12-14)

2. To determine whether police actions were reasonable, the focus is on their conduct, not their subjective intent. During an ongoing investigation, police approached Brown's girlfriend's apartment and knocked on the door. They did not need a warrant to do so. Brown fled out the window immediately upon learning of the police presence. At the moment Brown fled, the police had engaged in no misconduct. They merely knocked on an apartment door and asked if Brown was present. There is no evidence in the record that the police entered the apartment before Brown fled onto the roof next door. Thus, there was no seizure of any sort in the apartment. (pp. 14-16)

3. The admittedly defective warrants, which were tantamount to no warrants, do not affect the outcome. By moving to a public place, Brown transformed the situation from an arrest in a private apartment, where police would need a warrant, to the public arena, where the police could arrest him without a warrant based on probable cause that he had committed armed robbery. Also, after jumping onto a roof, Brown created a police standoff in a public place, posing a risk to officers and the public. The police did not need a warrant to arrest for resisting. (pp. 16-17)

4. The Court does not sanction certain conduct by the police. Better police training would address issues such as the presentation of complaints that lack probable cause as to the individual sought and acting on invalid arrest warrants. Because Brown fled to a public place, those issues do not surface in the final analysis of this case. (p. 18)

5. Substantial, credible evidence in the record supports the finding that Brown voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. Thus, the statements he made while in police custody were admissible at trial. Also, because Brown's constitutional rights were not violated by his lawful arrest, it is unnecessary to consider his attenuation argument. (pp. 18-20)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED AS MODIFIED, and the matter is REMANDED for resentencing consistent with the Appellate Division's opinion.

JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, RIVERA-SOTO, and HOENS and JUDGE STERN (temporarily assigned) join in CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER's opinion. JUSTICE LONG did not participate.

Argued October 12, 2010

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the validity of a warrantless arrest and its impact on defendant's post-arrest ...

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