Emergency Aid Doctrine Overrides Need for Miranda Warnings – State v. Boretsky

The so-called emergency aid doctrine is well-recognized under New Jersey law with respect to the ability of police officers to enter a residence and conduct a search related to an emergency. (See generally State v. Frankel, 179 N.J. 586 (2004) and State v. Cassidy, 179 N.J. 150 (2004)) Today’s Supreme Court decision in State v. Boretsky represents a significant expansion of the emergency aid doctrine as it relates to the administration of Miranda warnings and a defendant’s incriminating statements made during an emergency.

In Boretsky, the police responded to a 9-1-1 call from the defendant reporting a suicide of the defendant’s wife at their home. The police dispatcher informed the responding officer that a final restraining order was currently in effect, barring the defendant from contact with his wife.

Upon arrival at the location of the purported suicide, the police knocked on the door and were greeted by the defendant who was speaking on a cell phone. The defendant indicated that his attorney was on the phone and asked the police to speak to him. The officers declined to do so and immediately went about investigating the emergency. They found the defendant’s wife with an obvious major chest wound and a knife near her body. The defendant continued with his attempts to persuade the police to speak to his lawyer. The police refused to do so and instead, while tending to the emergency, asked the defendant questions related to his wife and the last time he had seen her. The defendant made incriminating admissions and continued to repeatedly ask for the police to speak on the cell phone to his lawyer.

Ultimately, the police removed the cell phone from the defendant and arrested him, thereby preventing him from further disrupting the police emergency response. Defendant was given Miranda warnings upon his arrest and moments later made additional incriminating statements although not as a result of interrogation.

The Supreme Court ruled that when police are confronted with an emergency situation such as occurred in this case, the administration of Miranda warnings is of secondary importance to law enforcement’s paramount goal of saving lives and protecting property. An emergency aid situation overrides the need for Miranda warnings. Moreover, an ambiguous or equivocal assertion by a defendant of his right to counsel is also deemed to be ineffective during an emergency aid situation.

Download a copy of State v. Boretsky.

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