What Is New And Interesting?
Well, it is not exactly the auto insurance minimum coverage amounts we hoped for in a similar bill moving through our NJ Legislature, but at least this bill will provide some long needed increase. Yesterday, both houses of the Legislature passed bill A-4291/S-481 to increase the minimum coverage to $25,000 for bodily injury for one person in an accident and $50,000 for more than one person. If signed by Governor Murphy, it would go into effect on January 1, 2023 and then increase those minimum coverage amounts in the year 2026 to $35,000/$70,000.
While it may not be the steep increase we hoped for, at least someone understands that the current minimum coverage of $15,000 is no longer helping anyone. We now wait to see if Governor Murphy signs the new bill.
The other bill making its way to Governor Murphy's desk from yesterday is A-4293/S2843 which would expand the policy disclosure law in New Jersey. Last year a bill was enacted that finally required insurance companies to disclose how much insurance coverage the person that hit you had. However, it only applied in certain situations. Prior to last year's bill, one would have to file a lawsuit in order to figure out that answer. However, what frequently happened is that you filed the lawsuit, was finally told the answer and then realized the person had a minimum $15,000 policy that would not cover very much, especially the cost of experts during the course of litigation. If you knew it was a minimum policy prior to filing suit, you could use that information to push the insurance carrier to resolve it since everyone would be on the same page and the insurance carrier wouldn't be able to keep that information secret. This new bill would expand the fact scenario of when the insurance carrier must tell you the limits before litigation.
Today, in State v. David L. Smith, our New Jersey Supreme Court examined whether tint on a rear windshield justifies a investigatory stop of a motor vehicle allowing the police to perform a search. The court determined it did not.
David L. Smith was driving a vehicle around 10:20pm in Trenton, NJ with tint on his rear windshield. An officer stopped David for a tinted window violation and determined that David's movements in his vehicle were suspicious. The officer acknowledged that he was able to see that defendant was alone in the vehicle and making shoving motions; meaning the tint on the rear windshield did not prevent the officer from seeing inside the vehicle. Upon search, they found various weapons. David was charged with a window tint violation and weapon offenses.
The matter reached the NJ Supreme Court to determine whether the State established a reasonable and articulable suspicion for the car stop. The court determined that NJSA 39:3-74 prohibits operation of a vehicle with any non-transparent material on the front windshield or front side windows. This statute does not state that it is a violation to have a back windshield tinted. Consequently, the initial stop based on a rear tinted window was not justified. Therefore, anything found during the unjustified stop can not be used against the person.
Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a decision in State v. Abayuba Rivas ruling that Rivas' confession is thrown out due to the police failing to honor his request for counsel during interrogation.
Rivas contacted the police because he said his wife was missing. The police took several statements from Rivas before showing him video contradicting his statements. Rivas then changed his statement and was incarcerated for incriminating himself on another crime and providing false information to the police. While in jail, Rivas attempted suicide and was transferred to a hospital. While in the hospital, the police continued to question Rivas. The police read Rivas his Miranda rights and continued to question him. Rivas' story again changed. The police came back the next day and began a 6 hour question and answer session. During this time, the detective had Rivas read his Miranda rights. While doing so, Rivas made various statements about needing to find a lawyer and determine how much one would cost, asking if he needed an attorney, and then later that he does want a lawyer. The police continued to question him. Rivas ended up confessing to killing his wife.
The trial court determined that Rivas' various statements about a lawyer were unclear and ambiguous. However, the trial court determined some of the interrogation could stand and other parts suppressed.
An appeal and eventual submission to the NJ Supreme Court was made. The NJ Supreme Court ruled today that once Rivas invoked his right to counsel, even though it may be considered ambiguous, the detectives were required to clarify the ambiguity or cease questioning. The detectives did neither and instead, continued to interrogate Rivas for almost 6 hours before eliciting a confession. Rivas statements and continued conversations after confessing could not be characterized as voluntarily initiated by Rivas since the questioning by police never truly ceased. Consequently, the court ruled that the statements need to be suppressed.
Under our state law privilege against self-incrimination, a suspect does not need to be articulate, clear or explicit in requesting counsel. Any indication of a desire for counsel will trigger an entitlement to counsel under our constitution. If the police are unsure of your request, they have a duty to clarify before continuing to question the suspect. If the police fail to follow Miranda, a confession can be suppressed as it was here.
Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate Commerce Committee released a few auto insurance bills that just need to get passed. Of those included in the package, the following two are important to almost anyone that drives in New Jersey.
1. S481 would raise the automobile insurance coverage minimums that are currently in place to a minimum coverage of $50,000. Did you know that currently, the minimum amount of insurance someone needs to purchase is $15,000! Imagine in this day and age of prices constantly rising that you are hit and injured and it turns out the other driver can only offer $15,000 towards compensating you for your injuries. By the time you pay your expert for an opinion, etc. there is not much left. An increase on the state minimum coverage is long overdue and we hope it passes this time.
2. S467 would create a new exception for the limitation on lawsuit selection for those involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver or reckless driver. As it stands now, if you selected a limitation on lawsuit option on your policy and a drunk driver hits you, you need to jump through hurdles to prove your injury meets a certain level before you can collect anything for your pain and suffering. It's one thing if someone made a misjudgment and caused an accident. It is another thing if that person purposely drove drunk and caused an accident. This is another good bill we hope gets passed.
Kristy L. Bruce enjoys the satisfaction of helping change someones life for the better. She hopes you enjoy this blog.
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Robert W. Rubinstein, Esq.
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