A Court Cannot Use a Municipal Court Defendant’s Silence at the Scene of an Auto Accident As Substantive Evidence of Guilt

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

The New Jersey Supreme Court held, in State v. Stas, that a Municipal Court’s use of a defendant’s silence at the scene of a motor vehicle accident as substantive evidence of his guilt and to assess his credibility violated his privilege against self-incrimination.

Under federal criminal law, the use for any purpose at trial of a defendant’s silence after his arrest and the administration of Miranda warnings violates his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to due process. Under New Jersey law, even silence that precedes Miranda warnings, if “at or near” the time of the criminal defendant’s arrest, cannot be used for any purpose at trial. In this instance, defendant was arrested for allowing an intoxicated person to drive a motor vehicle over which he had custody or control, and remained silent as his co-defendant admitted to driving while intoxicated. Defendant’s silence “at or near” his receipt of a summons at the scene for a violation of the drunk driving laws served as the functional equivalent of an arrest. As a result, his silence should not have been used for any purpose, and the reviewing court’s reliance on that silence constituted reversible error.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a Municipal Court criminal or traffic offense, or drunk driving, please call New Jersey criminal lawyers Schwartz & Posnock at (732) 544-1460 for assistance.

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