New Jersey v. A.M.

The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether defendant A.M., who spoke limited English, waived his constitutional right against self-incrimination pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. A.M. was convicted on multiple counts of the sexual assault of his fourteen year old step-granddaughter. Because defendant spoke little English and stated that he was more comfortable with Spanish, Detective Richard Ramos assisted in translating the interview from English to Spanish. The entire interview was video-recorded to a DVD and later transcribed in English by a clerk-typist employed by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. Before the interview, Detective Ramos reviewed with defendant a Spanish-language form prepared by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which listed each of defendant’s Miranda rights and contained a waiver paragraph. Detective Ramos read defendant his Miranda rights from the Spanish-language form, pausing after reading each one to ask defendant in Spanish if he understood. Defendant replied “sí” each time and initialed each line. Detective Ramos then handed the form to defendant to review the waiver portion and asked in Spanish, “Do you understand?” Defendant replied, “Sí,” and Detective Ramos told defendant to sign in two places, which defendant did. During the course of the interrogation that followed, defendant admitted to touching his step-granddaughter inappropriately. The Appellate Division reversed, finding the State failed to prove defendant made a voluntary decision to waive his Miranda rights. Although the Supreme Court surmised the better practice would have been to read aloud the form’s waiver portion to defendant, it relied on the trial court’s "well-supported observations and factual findings" and reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment. View "New Jersey v. A.M." on Justia Law