Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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In the sexual assault trial of fourteen-year-old “Alex,” the family court admitted into evidence the "tender-years" exception to the hearsay rule: the video-recorded statement that seven-year-old “John” gave to police, in which he alleged that Alex had sexually touched him on a school bus. John, who suffered from severe developmental disabilities, who during out-of-court and in-court questioning was unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and who was declared incompetent as a witness by the court, was permitted to testify pursuant to the incompetency proviso of N.J.R.E. 803(c)(27). The State recalled John to the stand. He had difficulty answering simple questions. For example, he stated “It’s right,” if the prosecutor referred to a spider as a flower, and in response to a leading question, indicated that the color black might be red. John stated that Alex, whom he identified in the courtroom, touched him on “my clothes, my pee-pee and my butt.” However, John stated that a little boy named Alex sat near him and that the little boys and big boys were separated on the bus. The family court adjudicated Alex delinquent. Alex appealed. The Appellate Division held that John was effectively unavailable for cross-examination, and therefore the admission of his statement to the detective violated Alex’s federal confrontation rights. The panel did not address any state-law evidentiary claims and remanded to the family court to assess whether the State’s remaining evidence was sufficient to prove the adjudication beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court granted the State’s petition for certification. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed Alex’s delinquency adjudication on state-law grounds, concluding John's video-recorded statement was not admissible because the statement did not possess a sufficient probability of trustworthiness to justify its introduction at trial under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(27). Striking the recorded statement from the record did not leave sufficient evidence in the record to support, on any rational basis, the adjudication of delinquency against Alex. View "New Jersey in the Interest of A.R." on Justia Law

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In 2009, a detective responded to a robbery call and met with S.T. (the victim) and defendant Gary Twiggs, who stated they had been robbed by a white male wearing a mask, later identified as Dillon Tracy. A police officer took the mask for DNA analysis. In July 2014, police collected DNA from Tracy. His DNA matched the sample found on the mask. Tracy later confessed, implicating Twiggs. Based on Tracy’s testimony, police arrested Twiggs for conspiracy and the robbery, and a grand jury returned an indictment. Twiggs moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the claim was barred by the general criminal statute of limitations. The State responded that the DNA exception within N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) tolled the statute of limitations. The trial court found the DNA-tolling provision inapplicable and dismissed the indictment. A divided panel of the Appellate Division affirmed. In 2002, ten-year-old Iyonna Jones found a note from her mother, Elisha Jones -- intended for Iyonna’s aunt, Likisha Jones -- explaining that Iyonna’s nine-year-old sister, Jon-Niece Jones, had stopped breathing and that Elisha went to “tak[e] care of it.” Likisha called her brother, James Jones, telling him that there was a family emergency. James and Iyonna’s uncle, Godfrey Gibson, traveled to Elisha’s home. James, Gibson, and Elisha drove to a wooded area in Upper Freehold, New Jersey. Elisha took the bin into the woods. Nearly four months later, Elisha died. Years later, in March 2005, a hunter found a child’s skeletal remains. In July 2012, Iyonna provided information relating to the disappearance of Jon-Niece. Law enforcement compared Iyonna’s DNA and the DNA of Jon-Niece’s father to the DNA generated from the skeletal remains. In January 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment, charging James, Likisha, and Gibson with third-degree conspiracy, as well as substantive tampering, obstruction, and hindering charges. James and Likisha moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motion. The Appellate Division reversed the denial of defendants’ motion to dismiss the tampering, obstruction, and hindering charges; affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss the conspiracy charge; and remanded for resentencing on the conspiracy charge. The Court granted the State’s petition and defendants’ cross-petitions for certification. Both cases implicated the DNA-tolling exception. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the exception applied only when the State obtained DNA evidence that directly matched the defendant to physical evidence of a crime. Because the DNA identifications at issue in these cases did not directly link defendants to the relevant offenses, the Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s affirmance of the trial court’s dismissal of the indictments against defendant Gary Twiggs in its entirety and against defendants James and Likisha Jones in relevant part. View "New Jersey v. Twiggs" on Justia Law

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The police spotted defendant Leo Pinkston in a car that matched the general description of a vehicle used in a shooting. The officers “activated their lights and sirens.” Defendant allegedly “disregarded” the lights and sirens and drove off. Ultimately, defendant struck another car, and both vehicles collided with a light pole and caught on fire. Defendant was charged with second-degree eluding and second-degree aggravated assault while eluding. Pretrial Services recommended against defendant’s release, and the State moved to detain defendant. Defense counsel asked for an adjournment to obtain additional discovery and subpoena police officers to testify at the hearing. The trial court denied defendant’s request. After considering the complaint, affidavit of probable cause, Public Safety Assessment, Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report, and the arguments of counsel, the court concluded that: (1) probable cause existed; and (2) clear and convincing evidence established that defendant should be detained. The Appellate Division affirmed the finding of probable cause and order of detention. Shortly before this appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court was argued, defendant pled guilty, and the State moved to dismiss as moot. The Supreme Court determined hat defendants have a qualified right to call adverse witnesses at detention hearings. However, Pinkston pled guilty; the Supreme Court did not review the trial court's decision to detain him pretrial. This appeal was dismissed as moot. View "New Jersey v. Pinkston" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this matter centered on the admissibility of evidence procured from a home after police officers’ warrantless entry. A man was attacked at a bus stop in Willingboro and his cell phone was stolen. He and a police officer tracked the phone’s location to a nearby house using a phone tracking application. Several officers arrived at the house, and one spotted the stolen cell phone’s case through a window. When no one responded to their knocks on the door, the officers entered the house through an unlocked window. Once inside, they performed a protective sweep to determine whether the suspect was inside, and they found defendant, J.A., then seventeen years of age, under the covers of a bed. Shortly thereafter, defendant’s mother and brother arrived home. After the officers explained their investigation, defendant’s mother consented to a search of the house, and defendant’s brother voluntarily retrieved the stolen phone. Defendant was later charged with second-degree robbery for theft of the phone. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers’ entry into his home was unconstitutional because the officers entered without a warrant and there were no circumstances that would justify an exception to the warrant requirement. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, finding that although the officers’ search procedure may have been imprudent, it was ultimately defendant’s brother - without any coercion or duress from law enforcement - who retrieved the cell phone. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate panel’s determination that the officers’ warrantless entry was justified by the claimed exigency faced by the officers. However, the Court agreed defendant’s brother’s actions did not constitute state action and were sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful police conduct. Because we find that the brother’s independent actions operated to preclude application of the exclusionary rule to the evidence, the Court did not reach the question of defendant’s mother’s consent to search. Accordingly, the Court modified and affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "New Jersey in the Interest of J.A." on Justia Law

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As a result of their sex-offense convictions, all four defendants were required to serve a special sentence of community supervision for life ("CSL") after completion of their prison terms. The commission of their offenses, the judgments of their convictions, and the commencement of their sentences all preceded passage of the 2014 Amendment to the Violent Predator Incapacitation Act. Before the 2014 Amendment, a violation of the terms of CSL was punishable as a fourth-degree crime. The 2014 Amendment increased a CSL violation to a third-degree crime punishable by a presumptive term of imprisonment, and such a violation converted CSL to parole supervision for life (PSL). After enactment of the 2014 Amendment, all four defendants allegedly violated the terms of their CSL. They were indicted for committing third-degree offenses and faced the increased penalties provided by that Amendment. The trial courts presiding over defendants’ cases concluded that the 2014 Amendment’s enhanced penalties, as applied to defendants, violated the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions and dismissed the indictments. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court held the Federal and State Ex Post Facto Clauses barred the retroactive application of the 2014 Amendment to defendants’ CSL violations. The Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division dismissing defendants’ indictments. View "New Jersey v. Hester" on Justia Law

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During the 2012 mayoral election in the City of Salem, New Jersey, defendant Isaac Young was the executive director of the city’s housing authority. Defendant’s friend and political ally, the incumbent-mayor Robert Davis, was defeated by then-councilman Charles Washington, who was eventually elected mayor. Defendant came into possession of documents sent by the Division of Youth and Family Services to the City’s police chief. The documents advised the chief that the Division had substantiated allegations of child abuse against Washington. The allegations were later deemed to be unsubstantiated. Defendant showed the documents to others in his office and gave copies to a police officer, Sergeant Leon Daniels, so that Daniels could distribute the documents to others for political purposes. Defendant was ultimately charged with permitting or encouraging the release of a confidential child abuse record, a fourth-degree offense; hindering his own apprehension or prosecution by giving a false statement to law enforcement; and fourth-degree false swearing by inconsistent statements. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charge relating to the unlawful release of the confidential documents, arguing that N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10b did not apply to his conduct. The court denied that motion. After a mistrial and retrial, defendant was convicted of the three offenses. An Appellate Division panel affirmed defendant’s convictions for hindering and false swearing. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Jersey v. Young" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey, juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses were barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society. Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and challenged the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles. After review of the specific facts of this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violated the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. “Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.” The Court determined that in the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provided the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law, and a criminal defendant may petition to be released from registration and notification requirements when a superior court judge is persuaded the defendant has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period. Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). View "New Jersey in the Interest of C.K." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether defendant Todd Dorn’s right to a grand jury presentment under the New Jersey Constitution was violated when the trial court permitted the State, on the eve of trial, to increase the charge in count two of defendant’s indictment from a third-degree to a second-degree drug offense. The Court also considered whether it was proper for the trial court to admit into evidence a copy of a map showing that defendant’s home was within 500 feet of public housing, a public park, or public building. The Supreme Court concluded the amendment to count two of defendant’s indictment was a violation of defendant’s right to grand jury presentment under the New Jersey Constitution, and remanded the conviction on count two to the trial court. The Court also found defendant waived his right to object to the map’s authentication. View "New Jersey v. Dor" on Justia Law

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In March 2012, New Jersey State Trooper John Faust pulled over a 2002 Mercury Sable with a damaged taillight on Interstate 295. The driver, Shonsheray Chandler, had changed lanes without signaling. There were passengers in Chandler’s car: her six-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, and defendant Malcolm Hagans, sitting in the front passenger seat. Faust smelled the odor of burnt marijuana in the vehicle. Faust ultimately arrested defendant, handcuffed him, called for back-up, and administered Miranda warnings. Faust also handcuffed Chandler and placed her in the backseat of his police vehicle. Chandler denied knowing defendant had marijuana on him and denied that she had been smoking marijuana in the car. Faust requested Chandler consent to a search of her vehicle. Faust asked whether she would give consent, and Chandler responded “no.” Faust then discussed his next steps: “I know, but at this time . . . we are going to apply for a search warrant, okay, and that is kinda going to prolong the inevitable. I would just like it to be easier.” Chandler replied, “Go ahead.” Faust then inquired, “What’s that ma’am?,” to which Chandler repeated “Go ahead.” Faust asked, “Are you sure?” Chandler answered, “Yeah.” Faust countered, “So you’re saying yes?” Chandler responded, “Yes.” The issue that exchange presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether Chandler’s consent was valid after she initially denied the officer’s request to search it. The Supreme Court found that because the trial court’s determination that the driver ultimately knowingly and voluntarily gave consent to search is supported by sufficient credible evidence, the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search. View "New Jersey v. Hagans" on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Supreme Court found that counsel for both sides raised an intriguing question in this case: whether an identification made by a law enforcement officer should be tested by the same standards that apply to a civilian. The State presented strong evidence that defendant Dorian Pressley distributed cocaine. According to the testimony at trial, defendant sold two vials of cocaine directly to an undercover detective. At the end of the face-to-face exchange, defendant gave the detective his phone number and told her to store the number under the first three letters of his name. A second officer observed the transaction. Immediately after the sale, the undercover officer transmitted a description of defendant to a supervisor. The second officer also radioed information about defendant’s movements. About four blocks from where the sale took place, a third officer stopped defendant, who matched the description. The officer realized he knew the suspect and let him go to protect the ongoing undercover operation. Back at headquarters, the third officer printed a photo of defendant. The undercover detective also returned to headquarters. Within one hour of the transaction, she viewed the single photo of defendant and said she was certain that the individual in the picture had sold her the two vials. Defendant was arrested and convicted after trial of third-degree possession of heroin, third-degree distribution of cocaine, and third-degree distribution of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court should have held a pretrial hearing to evaluate the reliability of the identification. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that it could not determine whether part or all of the protections outlined in New Jersey v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208 (2011) should apply to identifications made by law enforcement officers: “Even if the trial judge in this case had held a pretrial hearing, though, it is difficult to imagine that the identification would have been suppressed. Although showups are inherently suggestive, ‘the risk of misidentification is not heightened if a showup is conducted’ within two hours of an event. Here, the identification took place within an hour. In addition, the trial judge gave the jury a full instruction on identification evidence, consistent with Henderson and the model jury charge.” The Court affirmed the Appellate Division and upheld defendant’s convictions. View "New Jersey v. Pressley" on Justia Law