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State of New Jersey v. Anthony D. Oneal

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


January 9, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ANTHONY D. ONEAL, A/K/A ANTHONY ONEAL, A/K/A ANTHONY D. O'NEAL, A/K/A, ANTHONY O'NEAL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 11-02-0315.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 7, 2012

Before Judges Yannotti and Hoffman.

Following denial of his motion to suppress a statement made to investigators, defendant Anthony D. O'Neal pled guilty to third degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3). Defendant preserved the Miranda*fn1 issue for appeal.

On November 7, 2011, the trial judge sentenced defendant, in accordance with the negotiated plea agreement, to three years probation, with ninety days incarceration as a special condition of that probation, and appropriate fines and penalties. Defendant appeals from his conviction and sentence.

Defendant asserts the following argument on appeal through counsel:

POINT ONE:

BECAUSE THE DEFENDANT'S STATEMENT 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., AMENDS. V, XIV; N.J. CONST., ART. 1, PARS. 1, 10 Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we are not persuaded by defendant's argument and affirm.

I.

At the suppression hearing, Investigator Donald Carruth of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, testified that on December 9, 2010 he and approximately ten other officers executed a search warrant*fn2 at the one-bedroom apartment defendant shared with his girlfriend. They had moved into the apartment in September of 2010. Defendant was the target of the warrant.

The search began at 2:30 p.m. and lasted approximately one hour and twenty minutes. The search yielded heroin in a bedroom dresser, as well as cocaine in a kitchen drawer. Before the completion of the search, Investigator Carruth transported defendant to the sheriff's department for processing. Defendant's girlfriend remained at the apartment as she was detained during the search, but not placed under arrest.

Before taking a formal statement, Investigator Carruth said he "advised [defendant] that if nobody took responsibility for the heroin or anything that's found in the apartment, that everybody that's at the apartment could be arrested."

Defendant testified that he initially declined to give any statement. This changed, however, after he overheard one of the officers talking on the phone stating that defendant was not cooperating and "saying something about incarcerating my girlfriend." At that point, defendant called out to the officer, "What's going on?" Defendant said he was told "they're going to arrest your girlfriend if you don't give a statement."

At that point, defendant was brought back into the interrogation room for questioning. Defendant said he was aware the interview was being videotaped. At 3:39 p.m. defendant was advised of his rights and signed a Miranda waiver card. During the recorded interview that followed, which lasted twenty to thirty minutes, defendant made inculpatory statements accepting responsibility for the drugs. Defendant testified he would not have signed the Miranda waiver card if he had not been threatened with his girlfriend's arrest.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge found defendant's will was not overborne when the investigators accurately informed him that his live-in girlfriend could also be charged with possession of the drugs found in their shared apartment. The judge noted the following relevant factors: defendant was informed of his Miranda rights and acknowledged understanding them before making his statement, he had significant experience with law enforcement as a result of six previous arrests, his detention was "relatively brief," as evidenced by the fact he did not request a drink or bathroom break, and there was no physical force or threats at the time defendant waived his rights and agreed to give a statement. The judge also noted, "at no point did he request a lawyer during the questioning." After observing the video tape of the statement, and considering the testimony presented, the judge found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant made the statement "freely and voluntarily[.]"

II.

In reviewing a trial court's denial of a Miranda motion, we analyze police-obtained confessions 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) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), certif. denied, 178 N.J. 35 (2003).

Before considering the validity of a waiver of Miranda rights, it must be established that the police scrupulously honored the suspect's rights to remain silent. State v. Burno-Taylor, 400 N.J. Super. 581, 589 (App. Div. 2008). If the suspect's words or conduct, upon being advised of his or her rights, "could not reasonably be viewed as invoking the right to remain silent[,]" this requirement is satisfied and the police may continue their questioning. Id. at 590 (citing State v. Bey, 112 N.J. 123, 136-38 (1988)).

A trial court will admit a confession into evidence only if the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the suspect's waiver of those rights was knowing, intelligent and voluntary. Patton, supra, 362 N.J. Super. at 42.

Courts analyze whether police conduct coerced a confession by first determining whether the conduct violated the suspect's due process rights. See State v. Smith, 32 N.J. 501, 544 (1960), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 936, 81 S. Ct. 383, 5 L. Ed. 2d 367 (1961). New Jersey thus places a "mandatory burden on all courts to test the admissibility of confessions not only by the ordinary rules of evidence but by the deeper constitutional requirement of fundamental fairness." State v. Driver, 38 N.J. 255, 282 (1962) (citing Smith, supra, 32 N.J. at 544).

A suspect's confession is not considered voluntary if it is the product of psychological or physical coercion. State v. Galloway, 133 N.J. 631, 654 (1993). Unlike cases of physical coercion, the use of psychological techniques is not in and of itself coercive; rather, courts must analyze whether the confession was the result of the defendant's change of mind and not a broken will. Id. at 654-55. A confession is voluntary if it is "the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice" where the defendant's will has not been "'overborne and his capacity for self-determination [has not been] critically impaired.'" State v. P.Z., 152 N.J. 86, 113 (1997) (quoting Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 225-26, 93 S. Ct. 2041, 2047, 36 L. Ed. 2d 854, 862 (1973)). Cases which hold that a defendant's will has been overborne typically require the defendant to demonstrate a showing of "very substantial psychological pressure." Galloway, supra, 133 N.J. at 656.

III.

Defendant argues the trial court improperly admitted his custodial statement, contending that his custodial statement "was the involuntary product of coercion and an improper premise."

Defendant's arguments lack merit. The totality of the record clearly supports the judge's conclusion that defendant was properly advised of his Miranda rights at the sheriff's department, knowingly waived his rights, and voluntarily chose to provide a statement wherein he accepted responsibility for the drugs found in the apartment. As the judge noted, defendant was informed of his Miranda rights and acknowledged understanding them before making his confession. Also, defendant had significant previous encounters with law enforcement by virtue of six previous arrests, and his detention was relatively brief. Finally, defendant made no claim of physical force or threats. The trial judge viewed the videotape of the confession and found the confession to be voluntary, discerning no evidence defendant's will was overborne when he was accurately informed that Sirmans could also be charged for possession of drugs in a shared apartment. The judge's finding that defendant "took responsibility knowingly, intelligently [and] voluntarily" was based on sufficient credible evidence of record. We find no basis to disturb his findings and conclusion in this regard.

Affirmed.


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