Dear Supporters of Sinha Family:
Namaste. I am presenting updates on hearings that were held on June 15, 16 and July 5. Next set of motions will be heard on Thursday, July 28, 2011. These are the motions from the defense:
- To dismiss the case
- To either change the venue of trial (because of publicity) or have a foreign (from another county) jury
- To separate trial of Christopher Conway from the rest of the defendants
- There may be additional motions
Dr. Divyendu Sinha
If you are in a position to attend the hearing on Thursday, July 28, please do come. At this time we still do not know the start time but considering that there are several motions to be heard, we presume that the hearings will start at 9:00 A.M. Unless otherwise you receive another email from me, please plan to come by 9:00 A. M. You may also call me on July 27 (My cell: 732-754-1727) to confirm the time.
These are important motions. We thank all who have taken time to attend the hearings, coming from as far as Montvale, NJ. Let us continue to support Alkabahen.
Parking information and directions are at the end of this report.
This is a lengthy report but we want to keep you updated with all the details.
Updates on defense motions (June 15, 16 and July 5, 2011)
As I had mentioned in my last update, June 15 hearing was to decide the admissibility of recorded statements of Steven Contreras. Arguments from both sides could not be completed that day though both sides spent effectively four hours between 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 P. M. in the court. The Judge scheduled a hearing on Thursday, June 16. Defense attorney made his final arguments, Mr. Steven Contreras was cross examined and the prosecutor did the summation The judge, Hon. Bradley Ferencz ruled that statements of Steven Contreras given to the detectives on June 26 and 30, 2010 were voluntary in nature and that they could be admitted by the prosecution in the trial.
The July 5 hearing was for a motion filed by the defense attorney of Julian Daley to vacate his bail and place him in custody of his parents (as was the case before his April re-arrest.)
The following details are based on the notes I took in the court room; therefore, they are not verbatim but contain essence of what was shown (video) and discussed. They may not be 100% accurate and do miss some of the arguments that I could not jot down.
Steven Contreras’s defense lawyer Hasan Abdallah made these arguments: When StevenContreras was taken to Old Bridge Police station for questioning on June 26. 2010 by detective Paul Miller and detective Morris, he was not read his rights. He was pre-interviewed for an hour and then his statement was recorded on audio for 15 minutes which was akin to entrapment. The 17 year old boy was coerced and felt like he had to cooperate and answer though he should have been able to deny giving any self incriminating statements. Police knew that he was a suspect but it claimed that he was only a witness. He did not have any guardian or counsel with him.
Therefore, the defense makes a motion that the recorded statement be made inadmissible in the trial of Steven Contreras and others in the murder of Dr. Divyendu Sinha.
On June 30, 2010, the detectives again brought Steven Contreras to the Old Bridge Police Station for further questioning where he was accompanied by his father. They questioned him and video recorded his statement for 75 minutes. At this point, the police knew that he was a suspect but didn’t tell him so. They took the interview in a room where the door locked itself; he signed a paper saying that he was giving the statement voluntarily but the client did not know the legal definition of “voluntary”.
Detectives should have decided to arrest him then and there but they did not do so. They promised him that he won’t be charged (in the first interview).All these points to a plan to have Steven Contreras self incriminate himself. Therefore, the defense makes a motion that the recorded statement be made inadmissible in the trial of Steven Contreras and others in the murder of Dr. Divyendu Sinha.
The prosecution played both the audio and video recordings for the judge. Audio recording was 15 minutes long and the video recording was 75 minute long. Then,
Detective Paul Miller and Steven Contreras were examined and cross examined by the defense lawyer as well as by Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor. Christopher Kuberiet.
The video recording was telling as well as chilling because it showed how these criminals have no respect for human life and how they consider beating up someone for no reason as an act of joy and bravery. Steven Contreras vividly described the sequence of events of that fateful night (of course tailored to exonerate him of any culpability).
- All five defendants had been together since 2:00 PM
- They went to Wendy’s together
- Some one bought them liquor from a store (since they were underage)
- How all drank, except him (!)
- He was driving the car
- Julian Daley did not want to go home that early (11:00 PM)
- How they were cut off by another car
- How Julian Daley got angry and wanted to pick a fight with the other driver
- How they followed and cornered the other car in a dead end.
- How one of the other four, threw a brick like object that shattered the glass of that car
- How one of them realized that the car belonged to one of the known person
- How they called that person to apologize
- How Julian Daley wanted to “pop off” someone.
- How they cruised the streets looking for a would be victim
- How Julian and others spotted the Sinha family and one of them said to have seen “three dudes and a chick”
- How he parked his car in a dark area and turned off his light
- How the others ran to a side street
- Hoe he started the car and made U turn and show Julian and others punching Dr. Sinha
- Hoe he heard screams of a woman
- How he saw Julian and other guy hitting Sinha and his sons
- How they came back running and asked him to drive away
- How he saw someone on the ground
- How his friends joked about the attack and how they bragged
- How Julian Daley asked him to lie to the police, etc.
Some of the points made by the defense lawyer:
- Steven Contreras, his client was taken form his work for questioning.
- Steven Contreras was not given an opportunity to say no to being taken to the police headquarters.
- Steven Contreras was taken in a car where the doors were locked.
- Steven Contreras did not know that he could get out of the car on his own.
- Steven Contreras was promised that he won’t be charged.
- Police had evidence to arrest him and knew he was a suspect but they told him that he was only a witness.
- Steven Contreras was questioned in a closed room where the door was locked.
- Steven Contreras did not know what was meant legally by the word “Voluntarily” when he signed a document to that effect.
- All throughout the questioning, Steven Contreras was never told that he did not have to answer the
questions or that he was free to leave.
This was not a “questioning” but “custodial interrogation.”
Some of the points made by the accused, Steven Contreras:
(In response to questioning by the defense layer)
- When they took me to Old Bridge police station, I believed I was in custody.
- When the detectives left the room, I felt that I “had” to stay there until they came back.
- I felt intimidated because I had never been in a police car.
- I did not have any understanding that whatever I said could be used against me.
- The detectives told me that I “had” to give statement.
- I did not feel I had a choice.
- Detectives said that they were holding off higher-ups from questioning me because I was cooperating.
Some of the questions by the Assistant Public Prosecutor and Steven Contreras’s responses:
- Before leaving Grease Monkey (work place), did you talk with your father?
- Why did you get in the detective’s car, though they “intimidated” you, put you in “custody”?
- “I thought I had to do so because they were authority figures.”
- When they closed the door in the questioning room, what did you think?
- “I thought it was routine.”
- Did the detectives treat you with dignity, respect, courtesy?
Defense Counsel’s Summation:
- Detective Miller’s experience and training led him to believe in culpability of the defendant.
- He did not have authority to arrest but he had authority to charge the defendant.
- Question is of an individual’s liberty and whether it was custodial interrogation.
- Questioning on 6/26/10 was a pretext only because the detective knew about the assault (on Dr. Sinha and his family) and (alleged) involvement of my client.
- Detectives knew that Steven Contreras was more than a mere witness.
- What happened to this good kid? Is he now going to be punished because he complied?
- It is an affront to the court when the officer (detective) comes here and says that it was not a custodial interrogation.
Assistant Public Prosecutor’s Rebuttal:
- Waiver was made voluntarily (by the defendant.)
- Defendant was weighing competing considerations.
- What did the law officers know? That there was an assault and three African Americans were
involved. They did not know about (fourth) Latino (Steven Contreras.)
- Subjective interpretation is not legal standard.
- What Steven Contreras had in his mind is absolutely irrelevant.
- That a person be informed of his “suspect status” is not a requirement.
- Questioning was open-ended and non-confrontational. It was done in the middle of afternoon in Old Bridge police office in a room not at night in a holding cell. It was not a custodial interrogation.
- Police officers are not required to administer Miranda Rights in all cases.
- If the door of the inquiry room was kept open (the defense lawyer had argued that by keeping the door closed/locked, his client was in effect, put in custody), others would have been able to walk in or passers by could have seen what was going on- that would be impinging on Steven Contreras’s privacy.
- Hr does not recall “free will.”
- Steven Contreras (claims) to not understand simple words (answering on his own free will, etc.) but he knows the word “intimidated.”
- After four days (on June 30, 2010), he goes with the same people in same car to same Old Bridge Police station, though he “was intimidated” (first time, on June 26.)
- Steven Contreras and his father weighed competing interests.
- His father (who was present at the questioning on June 30, 2010) (is shown in the video) was relaxed, with sun glasses on and legs crossed.
- His father told him “I am going to work (now). Do you want me to call anyone?” Steven Contreras says “no, I am OK.” When the detectives step out, they (father and son) are talking about mundane thing like a stuck car key. Are these the signs of an intimidated person or someone under custodial interrogation?
- Steven Contreras and his father signed the Miranda Rights. How would you do this if you were intimidated? In a non-custodial situation they had a right to choose (sign or refuse to sign.)
- Steven Contreras was arrested on July 1, 2010.
Judge Bradley Ferencz’s Ruling
- Chris Conway identified Steven Contreras.
- There was no indication of him being a suspect (on June 26, 2010.)
- Steven Contreras voluntarily went to Old Bridge Police station.
- The defendant believed that he was going to explain away his conduct. This does not make police conduct custodial.
- Entire process was less than 1 ½ hours.
- The defendant provided information voluntarily and of free will.
- Analysis of June 26, 2010 questioning shows, it was uncoerced, not lengthy, not ordered.
- Steven Contreras acknowledged that he accompanied the law officers freely (of ho sown free will.)
- Law officers did not identify him as a suspect at the early stage.
- Interview was relaxed. It was non-confrontational. There was no challenge (to his narration), no cross examination;
- Investigation was non-custodial questioning.
- Sergeant believed him to be a witness and not necessarily a participant in crime.
- Interview took place not at an inconvenient time. Room is non-coercive. It is 10 x 10, not very small. There is a table and chairs.
- There was no request for bathroom break, food, etc.
- Steven Contreras in not 15 or 16 years. He is 10 months shy of 18 years (at the time of the interview in June, 2010), with mainstream education and cognitive function of a normal human being.
- June 30 inquiry is in the same (mold) as the previous one. Video makes it clear that there was no intimidation. Steven Contreras said that he did not want a lawyer.
- He was comfortable when his dad was to leave (for work.)
- Miranda warning was clearly given, read by them and signed also.
- He was warned that it was a serious matter. I cannot think of police impressing upon him more.
- There is nothing in the video that leads the court to believe that this man was coerced.
- This court is convinced not only beyond reasonable doubt, but beyond any doubt that the law officers acted properly in conducting the interviews.
The court notes that the defendant’s testimony is incredulously dishonest. He was hesitant and much of what happened was just not there.
The court ruled that statements of Steven Contreras given to the detectives on June 26 and 30, 2010 were voluntary in nature and that they could be admitted by the prosecution in the trial.
July 5, 2011 Hearings:
Julian Daley’s appeal for bail
Julian’s lawyer argued that it was impossible for the family to post one million dollars, all cash bail. Instead, he asked for a house arrest with no bail. He argued that Julian was not a risk to the community (!!) and he was not a flight risk, since he had always appeared in the court when asked.
Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor, Mr. Christopher Kuberiet referred to the seriousness of the crime.
- Mr. Daley has been placed at the scene of, and participating in the crime.
- He has record of previous violations of bail.
- Defense has not provided any documents about his mental condition.
- Defendant’s reputation and how long he has stayed in the community is not known.
- Nothing has come out of the defendant’s pocket. He is putting his parent’s home at risk.
- There is absolutely zero (financial) risk for the defendant.
- Supreme Court has put sufficiency of bail at $250K to $750K.
- The defense counsel is asking to put up only $100K (10% of surety bond).
- Given the nature of crime $100K is not enough.
Judge Bradley Ferencz’s Ruling:
- Court can impose conditions on a bail. (In response to the defense’s contention that it could not.)
- Court is in favor of cash bond, but:
- The defendant has no prior record
- Parents/guardians will post the bail (so they would have incentive to keep him out of trouble)
- Bail is not meant to be punitive
- Therefore the court modifies the earlier order of all cash, one million dollar bail to
- surety bond (i.e., only 10%, $100,000 cash would be required to post the bail). Further, Julian Daley will be under house confinement 24/7. He will wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. He will stay in jail until arrangements for electronic monitoring were made and bail was posted.
The Prosecutor was not happy about this judgment; he requested that his office be provided with the electronic monitoring reports on regular basis. This request was granted.
(We have come to know that Julian Daley’s parents have posted the bail last week.)
It was shocking to know that the electronic monitoring is carried out by private companies. It is possible that they may overlook infractions as there is no direct oversight of them by the Judiciary.
Court also heard a motion from the attorney for another defendant, Cash Johnson.
The motion was to restore his driving license so he could go to work without depending on others. He currently works at a dry cleaner in East Brunswick (7:30 AM to 1:30 PM) and wanted to work part time (3:00 PM to 7:30 PM) at a relative’s business in New York.
The judge ordered that:
- Cash Johnson would be allowed to drive from his home to work between 6:45 AM and 7:30 AM and from work to home between 1:30 PM and 2:15 PM.
- He could not go out on deliveries or cannot have alcohol in the car.
- For the second job, court did nit grant permission as it was an out of county job, it was a family business where there was no time keeping device and there was no information on how he would be paid, etc.
In an unrelated development, one of the defense lawyers, John Koufos was charged with leaving scene of hit and run accident in Toms River on June 17 and is out on bail.
Court Address, Directions and Parking Information:
Middlesex County Superior Court
56 Paterson Street, Room No. 505
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-2014
The court is on the fifth floor. Look for the Judge Bradley Ferencz’s court room (#505).
Paid Parking (very reasonable rates) is available at several locations.
I find Ferren Deck on Church Street most convenient, as you can access the court house by following signs (third floor) from the parking deck itself.
For GPS and MapQuest directions to Ferren Deck, use
180 Church Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901 or click here.
(Note: Church Street, which is one way North to South is closed from Nelson St., off Rte. 27 South, which is the normal approach to Ferren Deck. If you are coming off Rte. 18 and going South on Rte. 27, go past Neilso, Georges St.and Easton Ave.Then make a U Turn and turn right on Spring St (right after Feren Mall.) This will take you to Church St. entrance of Ferren Deck parking.)
On street parking with meters is available but very difficult to find. For free on street parking, one has to walk several blocks; it is generally available on side streets off Livingston Ave., west of Suydam street (15-20 minutes walk).
If you care coming by train (NJ transit), it is only five minute walk from the New Brunswick station.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Indian American Defense League (IADL)
Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA)
follow Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America at <VHPANews@twitter.com>.