CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Right to Remain Silent Lost its Bite in NJ

From Michael Tucker got life in prison for killing his mother at her Piscataway home.

Lawrence Brown was convicted of assaulting a Phillipsburg man with a beer bottle so savagely the victim required 900 stitches and lost part of his ear.

A jury found Ahmed Elkwisni guilty in the gunpoint robbery of Bob's Market in Garfield.

All three men say they invoked the right to remain silent while the crimes were under investigation, but the right was violated -- and they were denied a fair trial -- because once the case was before a jury, prosecutors questioned the silence or suggested it implied guilt.

Tomorrow, the New Jersey Supreme Court is scheduled to take up this trio of cases, which could help define what silence is and how it can, or can't, be used at trial. The cases are being closely watched by a divided legal community and could have national implications, experts say.

"The fact that they've taken these three different cases will give them the opportunity to really lay out the parameters of how far we are going to go to protect the right to silence in New Jersey," said Alison Perrone, who represents Tucker.

Defense attorneys say defendants are not obliged to prove their innocence. They have an absolute right not to incriminate themselves because it is the state's burden to prove their guilt. Their silence -- even if it means staying quiet about certain details or not coming forward with an explanation -- is still silence and cannot be used in court. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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