State in the Interest of A.S., a Juvenile, ? N.J. ?, 2010 N.J. LEXIS ? (July 29, 2010) – Adjudication of delinquency reversed, juvenile’s confession suppressed.
“A.S., a fourteen year old with an I.Q. of 83 and who could read only at a third-grade level, was adjudicated delinquent for conduct that, if committed by an adult, would constitute first-degree aggravated sexual assault. On appeal, she challenged the circumstances under which she was provided her constitutional warnings and then was subjected to police interrogation…. We hold that that A.S.’s confession was secured under circumstances that, in their totality, rendered her statement involuntary. In State v. Presha, 163 N.J. 304, 315 (2000), we said that a parent should be present, if at all possible, during the interrogation of a juvenile and, further, we said that that presence would be considered a significant factor in an assessment of the totality of the circumstances when determining the voluntariness of a child’s confession. We agree with the Appellate Division that A.S.’s confession cannot be safely regarded as a voluntary waiver of her constitutional rights. The police placed A.S.’s mother in the role of their helper from the outset of the interrogation process by making her read the child her rights. The police also failed to correct the mother’s later misstatements about those rights, and failed to stop the inquiry when A.S. was making imperfect, child-like efforts to assert her right to silence that were overcome by her mother’s badgering of her in the police presence. Under a totality of circumstances analysis, a confession secured by such means must be suppressed…. Here, the confession was by far the most damning piece of evidence against A.S., and thus we cannot say that there was no reasonable possibility that its introduction into evidence contributed to the delinquency adjudication…. Indeed, it may have been the source of most of the record support for finding that there was an element of sexual gratification in this matter. We do not suggest that without the confession the State will be unable to prove its case — there may be sufficient evidence to obtain a delinquency adjudication on remand — but that is not the legal standard that governs this dispute…. We decline to embrace a categorical rule that an attorney must be present any time that there is perceived clash in the interests of a parent based on a familial relationship with the victim or another involved in the investigation. Even in cases of such apparent clashing interests, a parent may be able to fulfill the role envisioned in Presha. And, in those cases where a parent is truly conflicted, another adult — not necessarily an attorney — may be able to fulfill the parental assistance role envisioned by Presha. Moreover, when it is apparent to interrogating officers that a parent has competing and clashing interests in the subject of the interrogation, the police minimally should take steps to ensure that the parent is not allowed to assume the role of interrogator and, further, should strongly consider ceasing the interview when another adult, who is without a conflict of interest, can be made available to the child.”