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NJ Appellate Update (Post-Conviction Relief “PCR”)


by in Criminal Appeals, Criminal Defense

This recent appeal was decided pertaining to a Post-Conviction Relief (PCR) denial of a juvenile defendant whose mother was prevented from being present while her son was interrogated by police, during which he confessed to murder.

State v. Lawrence Bell, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-4895-05T4 (November 17, 2009) – Denial of PCR affirmed in part, reversed in part, remanded for evidentiary hearing.

“Defendant’s second petition for PCR was based on the absence of defendant’s mother or stepmother from the interrogation following his arrest during which he admitted his participation in the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of a young mother. Defendant argues that his mother’s attendance was required and that she was barred from the interrogation room. He contends he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to determine the credibility of his stepmother’s recently submitted statement and her recollection of the events and their relevance to the voluntariness of his oral and written statements.

He further argues that his attorney was ineffective because he did not raise the issue of the stepmother’s absence from the interrogation and the voluntariness of defendant’s statements…. In this letter, defendant’s stepmother relates that she brought defendant to the police station, they entered a room and a detective handcuffed defendant. In her letter, she states she left the room to use the bathroom.

When she returned, defendant was in an interview room being questioned. A detective would not let her enter the room. When she protested, she was shown a note from defendant that stated that he did not want her to be with him. When she insisted that she wanted to see defendant, a detective opened the door. She described his skin as ‘a fire red in color’ and that he looked scared. Deborah Carter Tobin did not testify at the April 1992 Miranda hearing….

The presence or absence of a parent or guardian is one of several factors that must be considered in the assessment of the voluntary nature of an inculpatory statement by a juvenile. Although defendant’s interrogation could proceed in the absence of his stepmother, police were required to conduct the interrogation ‘with utmost fairness and in accordance with the highest standards of due process and fundamental fairness.’…

If defendant’s stepmother was excluded by detectives and defendant was not informed that she was nearby, these circumstances might suggest that the interrogation was not conducted with care and that the juvenile’s will was overborne…. [T]he record of the facts and circumstances surrounding defendant’s stepmother’s absence is now disputed. The contradictions created by the stepmother’s letter cannot be resolved by simply comparing the facts related in her letter and the transcript of the April 1992 Miranda hearing.” (David A. Gies, Designated Counsel)

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