Although I have written previous blogs on the need for defendants to keep quiet when being questioned by police, I do so again.
The New Jersey Supreme Court in a recent decision affirms that scared Fifth Amendment right when it scolded a municipal court judge’s decision who took into account the defendant’s silence in its decision finding the defendant guilty.
In State v. Stas, Mr. Stas and his friend (Mr. Putz), were involved in a motor vehicle accident in which Mr. Stas’ friend claimed he was the driver. While Putz was claiming he was the driver of the vehicle, Stas said nothing. After failing field sobriety tests, Putz was arrested for DWI, and Stas was charged and arrested for allowing an intoxicated driver (Putz), drive a vehicle in which he had custody and control over in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a).
A joint trial was held in which both Stas and Putz were found guilty: surprised? However, at trial, Stas said that he was the driver of the vehicle and not Putz, and Putz stated that he had lied to the police and was not the driver.
The municipal court judge found that Stas was not credible because he had remained silent while Putz lied to the police, and said nothing. Both the law division judge in the trial de novo, and appellate court on appeal, held that the municipal court committed no plain error in using Stas’ silence against him.
The Supreme Court reversed and held that every defendant-suspect has the absolutely right to remain silent and that silence cannot be used as substantive evidence against him or her in determining quilt. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
This case is another good example of the need for a suspect in a criminal or traffic investigation to remain silent when being questioned by police. It is not even necessary for the defendant to state that he wants to speak to a lawyer or has consulted with a lawyer; it is none of the cops business. The suspect should simply remain silent and says that he has nothing to say at this time. As fisherman say, “A fish doesn’t get caught until it opens its mouth.”
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
October 2, 2012
P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth, New Jersey 07207
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