The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that testimony given by a 13-year-old charged with a sex offense was admissible in court, even though the boy’s father was not present in the interrogation room at the time. In reaching its decision, the court said, “We are convinced that A.W.’s father, having been carefully apprised of his rights and of his son’s rights…willingly and voluntarily left the room.” According to New Jersey criminal attorneys, this decision is a departure from previous cases, in which testimony given by suspects 14 and younger had to be made with a parent present, except in special circumstances.
The 13-year-old, “A.W,” confessed to inappropriately touching his five-year-old cousin in a sexual manner. His confession came during a bilingual interrogation, since A.W. speaks English and Spanish, while his father only speaks Spanish. A.W.’s interrogator, Detective Janet Lopez, read the boy his Miranda rights in English and Spanish, but conducted the interrogation in a mixture of both languages, occasionally addressing only A.W. in English. Lopez asked A.W. if he could speak to her without his father present in English, and then asked his father in Spanish to leave the room. A.W.’s father signed a waiver and was told that he could return at any point. During the subsequent solo interrogation, A.W. admitted to touching his cousin, and was charged as a juvenile with two counts of aggravated sexual assault. The young boy was allowed to leave with his father, and received probation and treatment.
This ruling has garnered several dissenting responses, from the boy’s New Jersey criminal attorneys as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. The dissenters argue that some common “interrogation techniques…have the clear capacity to produce a false confession from a juvenile,” and that A.W. likely confessed under such circumstances. The language switch was one technique dissenters point to in debating the Supreme Court’s decision.
The New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons charged with murder, DUI, drug crimes, sex crimes, fraud, assault and other crimes across New Jersey.