On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 07-04-0906.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Messano and Waugh.
Defendant Kevin M. Campfield appeals his conviction, following a guilty plea, for reckless manslaughter and robbery, as well as the resulting sentence to consecutive terms of imprisonment for eight and seven years, respectively, both subject to the provisions of the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. We affirm the denial of the motion to suppress, vacate the guilty plea to reckless manslaughter, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
I. We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.
The decedent in this case was Ivory Bennett, who was twenty-five at the time of his death. His mother reported him missing on January 17, 2006. His clothing was found in a wooded area behind the Sassafras Run Apartments in Pleasantville, where he lived with his mother. There appeared to be blood on the clothing. Bennett's partially-clothed body was found in an adjacent creek the following day. There were lacerations on the back of his head, and extensive swelling to his eyes and face. The cause of death was subsequently determined to be drowning. Shortly after the body was discovered, the police found what appeared to be blood stains near the stairs close to the building in which Bennett lived.
During their missing persons investigation prior to locating Bennett's body, the police learned that Campfield, an eighteen-year-old student at Pleasantville High School, was the last person known to have seen Bennett alive. After Campfield was questioned and gave an incriminating statement, he was arrested and charged in connection with Bennett's homicide. He was subsequently indicted for felony murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3) (Count One); second-degree robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (Count Two); first-degree robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (Count Three); first-degree aggravated manslaughter, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a) (Count Four); second-degree reckless manslaughter, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b) (Count Five); second-degree aggravated assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1) (Count Six); third-degree aggravated assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(2) (Count Seven); fourth-degree aggravated assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(4) (Count Eight); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (Count Nine); third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (Count Ten); and tampering with physical evidence, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1) (Count Eleven).
Campfield moved to suppress the statement he gave to the police, arguing that the entire statement was not recorded as required by Rule 3:17, that he was not given timely Miranda*fn1 warnings, and that his subsequent Miranda waiver was the result of coercion and police misconduct. The motion judge heard testimony over four days between November 2006 and March 2007. He denied the motion to suppress in a detailed written opinion dated April 23, 2007.
On August 20, 2007, Campfield entered a guilty plea on two counts of the indictment: reckless manslaughter (count five) and robbery (count two), both second-degree offenses. The State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges and to recommend a sentence of eight years on the manslaughter and seven years on the robbery, to run consecutively. Both terms of incarceration were subject to NERA's eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility. The judge satisfied himself that Campfield understood the consequences of the plea and that he was entering into it voluntarily. After defense counsel and the prosecutor questioned Campfield to establish the factual basis of the plea, the judge accepted it.
Campfield was sentenced on November 9, 2007. The judge found aggravating factors three (risk of committing another offense) and nine (deterrence), N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(a)(3) and (9).
The judge declined to find aggravating factor six (extent of prior record), N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(a)(6), which had been requested by the State. Although he found no statutory mitigating factors, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b), the judge noted Campfield's "relative youth and the many character references" made on his behalf. The judge determined that the sentence under the plea agreement was "fair" and imposed that sentence. This appeal followed.
II. On appeal, Campfield raises the following issues:
POINT I: BECAUSE THE STATEMENT THAT THE DEFENDANT MADE TO THE POLICE WAS NOT KNOWINGLY, INTELLIGENTLY AND VOLUNTARILY MADE, THE TRIAL COURT'S REFUSAL TO GRANT HIS MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE STATEMENT DEPRIVED HIM OF DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND VIOLATED HIS PRIVILEGE AGAINST SELF-INCRIMINATION. U.S. Const., Amend. V, XIV; N.J. Const., Art. I, & 1.
A. THE STATEMENTS MUST BE SUPPRESSED PURSUANT TO MIRANDA V. ARIZONA AND STATE V. O'NEILL.
B. THE STATEMENT MUST BE SUPPRESSED BECAUSE IT WAS NOT VOLUNTARY.
POINT II: THE DEFENDANT'S PLEA OF GUILTY TO THE CHARGE OF MANSLAUGHTER FAILED TO CONTAIN A SUFFICIENT FACTUAL BASIS AND MUST BE VACATED. (Not Raised Below)
POINT III: DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE IS EXCESSIVE AND MUST BE REDUCED OR REMANDED FOR SENTENCING.
A. THE COURT'S SENTENCE WAS BASED ON CHARGES OUTSIDE THE GUILTY PLEA.
B. DEFENDANT'S SENTENCES SHOULD BE CONCURRENT.
We will address the first two issues in detail. Because of our decision to vacate the guilty plea with respect to reckless manslaughter, we need not reach the issues related to the sentence.
A. Campfield's first argument is that the statement he gave to the police should have been suppressed because he was questioned before he was given his Miranda warnings, the entire interrogation was not recorded as required by Rule 3:17, and the nature of the questioning, when viewed in the totality of the circumstances, demonstrated that his waiver of Miranda rights was neither voluntary nor knowing. He further contends that he was misled by Police Detective Richard Moore, a school resource officer and family friend, into cooperating and making statements that were not true. As a result, he argues, the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress. The Supreme Court has explained the standard of review applicable to an appellate court's consideration of a trial court's fact-finding on a motion to suppress as follows:
Our analysis must begin with an understanding of the standard of appellate review that applies to a motion judge's findings in a suppression hearing. As the Appellate Division in this case clearly recognized, an appellate court reviewing a motion to suppress must uphold the factual findings underlying the trial court's decision so long as those findings are "supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record." [State v. Elders, 386 N.J. Super. 208, 228 (App. Div. 2006)] (citing State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 474 (1999)); see also State v. Slockbower, 79 N.J. 1, 13 (1979) (concluding that "there was substantial credible evidence to support the findings of the motion judge that the . . . investigatory search [was] not based on probable cause"); State v. Alvarez, 238 N.J. Super. 560, 562-64 (App. Div. 1990) (stating that standard of review on appeal from motion to suppress is whether "the findings made by the judge could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record" (citing State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 164 (1964))).
An appellate court "should give deference to those findings of the trial judge which are substantially influenced by his opportunity to hear and see the witnesses and to have the 'feel' of the case, which a reviewing court cannot enjoy." Johnson, supra, 42 N.J. at 161. An appellate court should not disturb the trial court's findings merely because "it might have reached a different conclusion were it the trial tribunal" or because "the trial court decided all evidence or inference conflicts in favor of one side" in a close case. Id. at 162. A trial court's findings should be disturbed only if they are so clearly mistaken "that the interests of justice demand intervention and correction." Ibid. In those circumstances solely should an appellate court "appraise the record as if it were deciding the matter at inception and make its own findings and conclusions." Ibid. [State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 243-44 (2007).]
However, our review of the motion judge's legal conclusions is plenary. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).
In reviewing a trial judge's ruling on a Miranda motion, we analyze police-obtained statements using a "searching and critical" standard of review to ensure that constitutional rights have not been trampled upon. State v. Patton, 362 N.J. Super. 16, 43 (App. Div.) (citations omitted), certif. denied, 178 N.J. 35 (2003). We will not "engage in an independent assessment of the evidence as if [we] were the court of first instance," State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999), nor will we make conclusions regarding witness credibility, State v. Barone, 147 N.J. 599, 615 (1997), but we instead defer to the trial judge's credibility findings. State v. Cerefice, 335 N.J. Super. 374, 383 (App. Div. 2000).
Miranda warnings are required "'when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his [or her] freedom by the authorities in any significant way and is subject to questioning.'" State v. Stott, 171 N.J. 343, 364 (2002) (quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 478, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1630, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 726 (1966)). "'[T]he critical determinant of custody is whether there has been a significant deprivation of the suspect's freedom of action based on the objective circumstances, including the time and place of the interrogation, the status of the interrogator, and the status of the suspect.'" Id. at 365 (quoting State v. P.Z., 152 N.J. 86, 103 (1997)). Exculpatory or inculpatory statements made while a defendant is in custody are not to be used in the prosecution's case-in-chief if defendant was not advised of his Miranda rights. State v. Nyhammer, 197 N.J. 383, 400-01, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 65, 175 L. Ed. 2d 48 (2009); Stott, supra, 171 N.J. at 365; State v. Brown, 352 N.J. Super. 338, 351 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 174 N.J. 544 (2002).
The test employed to determine whether a custodial interrogation has taken place is an objective one. See State v. Barnes, 54 N.J. 1, 6 (1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1029, 90 S. Ct. 580, 24 L. Ed. 2d 525 (1970); State v. Cunningham, 153 N.J. Super. 350, 352-53 (App. Div. 1977). We consider the totality of the objective circumstances surrounding the police questioning, such as "the length of the interrogation, the place and time of the interrogation, the nature of the questions, the conduct of the police and all other relevant circumstances." State v. Coburn, 221 N.J. Super. 586, 595-96 (App. Div. 1987) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted), certif. denied, 110 N.J. 300 (1988); see also Stott, supra, 171 N.J. at 367-68. The analysis looks to whether ...