New Jersey Supreme Court Ruling Invalidates Juvenile Confession

NJ¬†has adopted guidelines for how juvenile proceedings, including communications with minors, are to be undertaken by police and other officials. In this regard, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-39 mandates that juveniles be represented by counsel at all critical stages of a case. The question addressed by the Court last week in State in the Matter of P.M.P concerned when a “critical” stage of a juvenile case is triggered. To wit, the Supreme Court concluded that every stage is critical from the point that police file a juvenile complaint and obtain an arrest warrant. Any questioning of a child following institution of the complaint and issuance of a warrant would require the presence of counsel or a valid waiver of this right following consultation with their defense attorney.

In P.M.P., the police began questioning of the juvenile prior to involvement of counsel. Since any interrogation undertaken following issuance of the warrant was at a “critical stage”, an absolute right to counsel attached. The confession, which was procured following this stage of proceedings, was therefore held defective and was precluded from use in prosecution of the juvenile.

The decision in P.M.P. basically imposes a bright line rule precluding interrogation of minor’s following arrest. One would have to question how anything otherwise could ever have been constitutionally permissible. Notwithstanding the holding, we can fully expect its dictates to be stretched beyond their limit absent proper attention by the defense.