Argued: September 17, 2013.
Approved for Publication October 16, 2013.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 09-08-0572.
Nathan Howe, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for appellant ( Geoffrey D. Soriano, Somerset County Prosecutor, attorney; Joseph V. Rocchietti, Assistant Prosecutor, and Mr. Howe, on the briefs).
Jacqueline E. Turner, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for respondent ( Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Ms. Turner, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges REISNER, ALVAREZ and OSTRER. The opinion of the court was delivered by REISNER, P.J.A.D.
[433 N.J.Super. 46] REISNER, P.J.A.D.
By leave granted, the State appeals from a January 16, 2013 trial court order permitting the defense to present expert psychiatric testimony concerning the potential impact of defendant's opiate addiction and withdrawal symptoms on the reliability of his confession. We conclude that the defense may present expert psychiatric testimony, so long as it is limited pursuant to the principles stated in this opinion.
Defendant was suspected of participating in a brutal sexual assault and murder. Two of his friends confessed to their involvement, but did not implicate defendant. He initially denied any involvement in the crime. However, a few days later, while he was in jail on an unrelated warrant, he confessed. Prior to his [433 N.J.Super. 47] trial, defendant claimed that the confession was not voluntary and was unreliable, because he was suffering from severe heroin withdrawal symptoms at the time he gave the statement.
Following a N.J.R.E. 104 hearing, the trial judge held that at an upcoming Miranda  hearing and at trial defendant could present an expert psychiatrist to testify about the possible relationship between his heroin withdrawal and his confession. The expert would be permitted to testify that defendant was addicted to heroin and was suffering from withdrawal when he gave his statement to the police, and that his claims about the effects of withdrawal were " consistent with his claim that he was giving an unreliable statement at the time" of his confession, " given his history of issues with heroin dependence."
In a written opinion, dated January 15, 2012, the trial judge explained his reasons for admitting the testimony. Relying on
State v. King, 387 N.J.Super. 522, 904 A.2d 808 (App.Div.2006), he concluded that the testimony was admissible to explain defendant's mental disorder to the jury and to explain why someone suffering from heroin withdrawal might confess to a crime as a result of the effect of the withdrawal symptoms, whether or not the confession was accurate. However, the judge ruled that the expert could not testify as to whether this defendant's statement was reliable or unreliable. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, we agree with the trial judge.
In evaluating a proffer of expert testimony, the court must apply the provisions of N.J.R.E. 702.
[T]he rule sets forth three basic requirements for the admission of expert testimony: " '(1) the intended testimony must concern a subject matter that is beyond the ken of the average juror; (2) the field testified to must be at a state of the art that an expert's testimony could be sufficiently reliable; and (3) the witness must have sufficient expertise to offer the intended testimony.'"
[ State v. Torres, 183 N.J. 554, 567-68, 874 A.2d 1084 (2005) (citation omitted).]
[433 N.J.Super. 48] Those requirements are construed " liberally" in favor of admitting expert testimony. State v. Jenewicz, 193 N.J. 440, 454, 940 A.2d 269 (2008). We review a trial judge's evidentiary rulings -- including a decision to permit an expert to testify pursuant to N.J.R.E. 702 -- for abuse of discretion. Id. at 455, 940 A.2d 269.
On this appeal, the State characterizes the trial judge's decision as a departure from established case law. We disagree. His ruling was consistent with settled precedent upholding a defendant's right to present expert testimony designed to explain to the jury why a particular defendant's psychological condition would make that defendant vulnerable to giving a false confession. By contrast, courts have routinely rejected efforts to present expert testimony concerning the phenomenon of false confessions in general or the impact of police interrogation methods in producing false confessions.
In this State, the leading cases are State v. Free, 351 N.J.Super. 203, 798 A.2d 83 (App.Div.2002), State v. King, supra, and State v. Rosales, 202 N.J. 549, 998 A.2d 459 (2010). In Free, the defense sought to introduce expert testimony addressing false confessions as a phenomenon and applying the expert's views on that topic to the details of the defendant's interrogation in that case. We held that the testimony was inadmissible, distinguishing cases permitting testimony about a specific defendant's psychological diagnosis:
[433 N.J.Super. 49] However, in each of those cases the psychological testimony concerned scientifically recognized mental disorders relevant to each defendant's confession, rather than, as here, testimony about the effects, in general, of police interrogation
techniques. We also acknowledge that a few decisions from other jurisdictions have permitted psychological testimony on the effects of police interrogation. For now, we merely note that none of them went as far as the trial judge did here, and ...