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State v. Vincenty

Supreme Court of New Jersey

March 11, 2019

State of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Adrian A. Vincenty, a/k/a Adrian A. Vicente and Adrian A. Vicenty, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued October 23, 2018

          On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

          Stephen W. Kirsch, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Stephen W. Kirsch, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Frank Muroski, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Frank Muroski, of counsel and on the brief, and Erica Bertuzzi, Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor, on the brief).

          FERNANDEZ-VINA, J., writing for the Court.

         In State v. A.G.D., the Court held that "[t]he government's failure to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint or arrest warrant has been filed or issued deprives that person of information indispensable to a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights." 178 N.J. 56, 68 (2003). Defendant Adrian Vincenty argues that two detectives failed to inform him of the criminal charges filed against him when they interrogated him and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. Relying on A.G.D., Vincenty filed a motion to suppress statements he made to the detectives. The Court considers that motion.

         Detectives Thomas Glackin and Brian Mera questioned Vincenty about the attempted robbery and attempted murder of Jerry Castellano. Castellano was attacked by two men on March 20, 2011. One of the assailants wore a mask and dropped or threw it away after the attack. Castellano ultimately survived the attack. Police officers recovered the mask on the night in question. The mask was tested for DNA -- and Vincenty's DNA was found on it. The detectives also identified Vincenty from the video recording of the attack.

         Detective Mera read Vincenty his rights -- and Vincenty was given and read a form detailing his rights. At the bottom of the form, it read: "I acknowledge that I have been advised of the constitutional rights as stated above." Vincenty signed the form.

         Detective Mera explained that the police identified Vincenty from the video recording of the attack and sought his assistance to identify the second assailant on the video recording. Detective Mera told Vincenty that "the judge already charged [him]," explained that they obtained Vincenty's DNA from the mask, and informed him that they "have the charges."

         Vincenty indicated that he was confused and denied any involvement in the attack. Detective Mera said, "We have you with the DNA and we have you . . . with gun charges, right?" Vincenty responded, "Ah huh." Vincenty nonetheless continued to deny any involvement in the robbery. Detective Mera then told Vincenty that they "presented the evidence to the judge," who "put the charges in." Vincenty still indicated that he was "surprise[d] that [the detectives] ha[d] . . . evidence against [him]."

         The detectives showed Vincenty a picture of the assailants. Vincenty told the detectives one of the assailants "looks like [him]" and that he has a coat similar to one worn by one of the assailants. Detective Mera explained that they had shown a judge all of the evidence because in order for them to speak with Vincenty, "[they] needed the charges." The detectives attempted to elicit information about the other assailant. Vincenty said, "I don't know him very well like that," and "I met him thru [sic] another friend of mine."

         A few moments later, Detective Mera mentioned that they had charges against Vincenty. Vincenty then stated that he did not get a letter from a judge about the charges and asked the detectives what the charges were. The officers showed Vincenty a list of the charges and explained to Vincenty that he had been charged with attempted homicide, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Shortly thereafter, Vincenty told the detectives he wanted to talk to a lawyer and expressed concern that there were charges pending against him. The detectives continued questioning Vincenty, who again asked to speak with a lawyer and indicated that he was both surprised and confused. The detectives then acknowledged Vincenty's desire to speak with a lawyer and stopped questioning him.

         A grand jury indicted Vincenty, who then filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to Detectives Glackin and Mera. The State indicated that it would not seek to admit any statements Vincenty made after he first requested to speak with a lawyer, and the trial court found that, until Vincenty requested to speak with a lawyer, his statements were the result of a "knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights."

         Vincenty entered into a plea agreement with the State whereby he pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted murder and reserved his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. An Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court's denial of Vincenty's motion to suppress. The Court granted Vincenty's petition for certification. 232 N.J. 278 (2018).

         HELD: The record reveals that the detectives failed to inform Vincenty of the charges filed against him when they read him his rights and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. That failure deprived Vincenty of the ability to knowingly and intelligently waive his right against self-incrimination. Pursuant to A.G.D., Vincenty's motion to suppress should have been granted.

         1. The right against self-incrimination is one of the most important protections of the criminal law. Individuals, as holders of the right, may waive the right against self-incrimination. Law enforcement officers must first advise a suspect of the right against self-incrimination before attempting to obtain a waiver of the right. The State carries the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect's waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary in light of all the circumstances. (pp. 11-12)

         2. In A.G.D., detectives questioned the defendant at his home about allegations of sexual abuse. 178 N.J. at 59. The detectives did not tell the defendant that a warrant for his arrest had been issued. Ibid. The defendant confessed to the alleged sexual abuse and was subsequently convicted of related offenses. Id. at 60-61. Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress his confession. Id. at 61. The Court held that the defendant's confession should have been suppressed, id. at 69, because the "government's failure to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint or arrest warrant has been filed or issued deprives that person of information indispensable to a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights," id. at 68. If suspects are not informed that a criminal complaint or arrest warrant has been filed against them, they necessarily lack "critically important information" and thus "the State cannot sustain its burden" of proving a suspect has knowingly and intelligently waived the right against self-incrimination. Ibid. (pp. 13-14)

         3. A.G.D. thus calls for law enforcement officials to make a simple declaratory statement at the outset of an interrogation that informs a defendant of the essence of the charges filed against him. That information should not be woven into accusatory questions posed during the interview. The State may choose to notify defendants immediately before or after administering Miranda warnings, so long as defendants are aware of the charges pending against them before they are asked to waive the right to self-incrimination. (p. 14)

         4. Vincenty's interrogation is precisely what A.G.D. prohibits, and it substantiates A.G.D.'s holding. Unaware that charges had been filed against him, Vincenty appeared willing and ready to waive his right against self-incrimination. However, when Vincenty was informed of the criminal charges filed against him, everything changed. His willingness to speak with the detectives dissipated. As that chain of events demonstrates, Vincenty's ability to knowingly and intelligently decide whether to waive his right against self-incrimination was fundamentally altered when he was informed of the criminal charges filed against him. Withholding that critically important information deprived Vincenty of the ability to knowingly and voluntarily waive the right against self-incrimination. (pp. 14-16)

         5. The trial court and Appellate Division erred in holding Vincenty knowingly and intelligently waived his right against self-incrimination. Consideration of harmless error would not change matters here because some of Vincenty's statements could be fairly characterized as inculpatory, and Vincenty's conduct reveals that his decision to plead guilty was influenced by the trial court's suppression ruling. (pp. 16-17)

         The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings.

          CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, PATTERSON, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE FERNANDEZ-VINA'S opinion.

          FERNANDEZ-VINA JUSTICE

         In State v. A.G.D., this Court held that "[t]he government's failure to inform a suspect that a criminal complaint or arrest warrant has been filed or issued deprives that person of information indispensable to a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights." 178 N.J. 56, 68 (2003). Defendant Adrian Vincenty argues that two detectives failed to inform him of the criminal charges filed against him when they interrogated him and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. Relying on A.G.D., Vincenty filed a motion to suppress statements he made to the detectives.

         The trial court denied his motion in part and granted it in part. The trial court held that the detectives did not violate A.G.D., but the court suppressed the statements Vincenty made to the detectives after he invoked his right to counsel. Vincenty pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted murder and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment with an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier. Vincenty appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.

         The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's denial of Vincenty's motion to suppress. According to the Appellate Division, the record showed that Vincenty was informed of the charges pending against him before he waived his right against self-incrimination. Thus, the Appellate Division held, the detectives did not contravene A.G.D.

         We disagree. The record reveals that the detectives failed to inform Vincenty of the charges filed against him when they read him his rights and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. That failure deprived Vincenty of the ability to knowingly and intelligently waive his right against self-incrimination. Pursuant to A.G.D., Vincenty's motion to suppress should have been granted. ...


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