On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Warren County, Docket No. FJ-21-287-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 7, 2012
Before Judges Carchman and Baxter.
By leave granted, the State appeals an August 23, 2011 Family Part order that granted the motion of T.M., a juvenile, to suppress the single remark he made to a police officer, and later repeated to a flight medic. Concerning T.M.'s answer to the police officer, the trial judge correctly held that T.M. was not in custody when he admitted to being the driver of the motor vehicle involved in a fatal crash. For that reason, the judge properly concluded that the officer did not violate T.M.'s Fifth Amendment rights by not providing Miranda*fn1 warnings to T.M. Nonetheless, relying on State v. Presha, 163 N.J. 304, 316-17 (2000), the judge suppressed T.M.'s statement because the police officer failed to call T.M.'s mother to the scene before asking T.M. the single question that is the subject of this portion of the State's appeal. We conclude the judge was mistaken in her application of Presha to the non-custodial circumstances presented here, and reverse the suppression of T.M.'s single-sentence statement to Sergeant Patrick Kirchner.
We reach a different result concerning the suppression of T.M.'s answer to the question posed to T.M. by Leslie Titus, the flight medic who accompanied T.M. on the helicopter ride to a local hospital. We have no basis to disturb the judge's finding that the powerful pain-killing medication administered to T.M. after he spoke to Sergeant Kirchner, and while he was en route to the hospital, interfered with T.M.'s ability to make a knowing statement. We affirm the suppression of T.M.'s answer to Titus's question.
At 7:04 a.m. on the morning of October 31, 2010, Sergeant Kirchner of the Mansfield Township Police Department was dispatched to a wooded area near the corner of Blau Road and Rockport Road in Mansfield Township. Speaking on the phone with Officer Joseph Hoffman, the mother of one of the two juveniles involved in the fatal crash the previous night, stated that her son T.M. and his friend G.B. were standing on Blau Road near its intersection with Rockport Road.
When Sergeant Kirchner arrived at Blau Road, he observed two males standing under "a bunch of pine trees . . . 40 to 50 yards off the road." Sergeant Kirchner stepped out of his patrol vehicle, and the two juveniles "basically walked over to [him]." Both juveniles were shivering from the cold. Based upon their appearance, Kirchner believed that they had been outside all night. When T.M. and G.B. were a few feet away from him, Sergeant Kirchner asked the single question that is the subject of this portion of the State's appeal. He described the interaction:
I basically just said who was the driver and the young man who -- the white male, again I didn't know their names at the moment, the white male said I was the driver, I was driving. And then I said, well, who's . . . the passenger, and the black male just said I was the passenger, and that -- that was it.
Sergeant Kirchner was the only officer present, although other officers and emergency medical technicians were en route. He described his "first priority" as "medical," as he was "aware of the seriousness of the motor vehicle accident and the mechanism of injury," and it appeared to Kirchner that "[t]he kids ha[d] been out all night long." He described T.M. as "conscious," "coherent," "rational," "aware of his surroundings" and in no severe distress, other than "shivering," when he admitted he was the driver.
After T.M. identified himself as the driver, Sergeant Kirchner placed both juveniles in the patrol car, emphasizing that neither juvenile was placed in handcuffs and neither was under arrest. When asked the purpose of placing them in the patrol car, Sergeant Kirchner answered:
Just to keep them, you know, it was either they're going to stand there or they're going to sit in [the] patrol car and just wait for the [medical] squad. We elected to have them just sit in the patrol ...