Generally speaking, it is a mistake for individuals who are or may be charged with crimes to give statements to law enforcement officers. Many people believe they can talk their way out of being charged, but this is simply not true. Our courts have long acknowledged that the atmosphere in which a statement is given is highly coercive. Further, officers and investigators are trained to take statements, and the person giving the statement simply lacks the same level of training and experience. The only thing a person brought in for a statement should say is “I want a lawyer.” At that point, the interrogation is supposed to stop.
The Miranda warnings exist, and are required, because of the coercive atmosphere of a statement. In New Jersey, these rights are typically explained orally and in writing, and the subject is supposed to initial and sign a form indicating that they understand and waive their rights. Further, statements are supposed to be video taped so that a reviewing body (such as a trial court hearing a suppression motion) can both see and hear everything that happened during the statement. When the subject has limited English language skills, the process, which includes the explanation and acknowledgement of Miranda warnings, should be bilingual.
In State v. A.M., decided in April of this year, our Supreme Court discussed whether a Spanish-speaking defendant who spoke limited English, properly waived his right against self-incrimination. Defendant was charged with sexually assaulting his granddaughter. After learning of the incident, officers transported him to the local police department for a statement. He indicated that he was more comfortable with Spanish. A Spanish speaking officer translated the interview, which was video-recorded, from English to Spanish.