Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

by
This interlocutory appeal presented two issues: (1) whether the State may rely solely on a hearsay certification to support a motion for an order to compel a buccal swab; and (2) whether the affidavit in this case provided sufficient probable cause to support the search. Two Jersey City police officers answered “a call of shots fired.” While investigating, one of the officers discovered a .357 handgun on the ground. That same night, a detective responded to investigate reports that a male had been shot near the area where shots were allegedly fired. At the hospital, the detective encountered defendant who had sustained a bullet wound on his left leg. While officers examined defendant’s pants, defendant said, “so I shot myself, that ain’t no charge.” Analysis of the gun, bullets and shell casings were used as grounds for a grand jury indictment of defendant for weapon possession offenses. Five months after defendant’s indictment, the State moved for an order compelling defendant to submit to a buccal swab. The Appellate Division granted defendant’s motion for leave to appeal and reversed the trial court’s order, reasoning that even if the assistant prosecutor’s hearsay certification could establish probable cause, the court’s order authorized an “unreasonable search, chiefly because of the timing of the request,” and because the New Jersey DNA Database and Databank Act of 1994 did not justify the intrusion. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted the State’s motion for leave to appeal. Although an affidavit of a police officer familiar with the investigation is preferable, the Court determined a hearsay certification from an assistant prosecutor could support probable cause to compel a defendant to submit to a buccal swab if it set forth the basis for the prosecutor’s knowledge. Furthermore, an affidavit or certification supporting probable cause to compel a buccal swab must establish a fair probability that defendant’s DNA will be found on the evidence. Here, the State failed to show probable cause. View "New Jersey v. Gathers" on Justia Law

by
Defendant J.L.G. was tired for: first-degree aggravated sexual assault; third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact; second-degree endangering the welfare of a child; and third-degree witness tampering. Defendant’s stepdaughter, “Bonnie,” testified at trial about an escalating pattern of sexual abuse that defendant carried out against her for roughly eighteen months, from when she was fourteen and defendant was about thirty-two. Defendant pointed a gun at Bonnie and threatened to hurt her, her mother, or her brother if word got out. Bonnie told no one about the abuse. A close friend of Bonnie’s mother visited the family apartment and found defendant lying on top of Bonnie. When Bonnie’s mother heard about the incident, she threatened to kill defendant. Bonnie was afraid her mother would follow through and denied any sexual activity. Although Bonnie claimed she wanted to tell her mother, she also did not “want her to do anything for her to get locked up.” The jury convicted defendant of all four counts. On appeal, defendant challenged the admissibility of the CSAAS testimony. The Appellate Division affirmed the convictions. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that expert testimony about CSAAS in general, and its component behaviors other than delayed disclosure, may no longer be admitted at criminal trials. "Evidence about delayed disclosure can be presented if it satisfies all parts of the applicable evidence rule." In particular, the State must show that the evidence is beyond the understanding of the average juror. "That decision will turn on the facts of each case. Here, because the victim gave straightforward reasons about why she delayed reporting abuse, the jury did not need help from an expert to evaluate her explanation." The expert testimony about CSAAS introduced at trial was harmless, and the Supreme Court affirmed defendant’s convictions. View "New Jersey v. J.L.G." on Justia Law

by
In September 2011, the Middlesex County New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office opened a narcotics investigation into Tyrell Johnson that later swept in defendant Danyell Fuqua. In the early morning hours, and after obtaining a search warrant, officers entered a motel room. There, the officers found defendant, Johnson, and six children between the ages of one and thirteen - three were defendant’s children, one was Johnson’s child, and two were defendant’s relatives. The small room had a kitchenette, two beds, and a bathroom. On the kitchen table, officers found marijuana; between the beds officers discovered pill bottles containing multicolored pills, bags of heroin, and a large bag of cocaine. Johnson pled guilty to drug distribution charges, and a jury convicted defendant of endangering the welfare of children. Defendant challenged the endangerment conviction, arguing the State had to prove actual harm to children to convict under the applicable statute. The New Jersey Supreme Court found the trial court and Appellate Division correctly determined a conviction under N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a) could be sustained by exposing children to a substantial risk of harm. View "New Jersey v. Fuqua" on Justia Law

by
In January 2014, a General Order was issued under the authority of the Chief of the Barnegat Township Police Department that applied only to that department. The Order instructed officers to record by MVR several categories of incidents. It was undisputed that the MVR recordings at the center of this appeal were made in compliance with the Order. The MVR recordings at issue documented an incident in which police officers pursued and arrested a driver who had allegedly eluded an officer attempting a traffic stop. One officer’s decision to deploy a police dog during the arrest led to internal investigations and criminal charges against the officer. Approximately four months after the driver’s arrest, plaintiff John Paff sought access to the MVR recordings under OPRA and the common law. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office (OCPO) opposed disclosure. Plaintiff filed a verified complaint and order to show cause, seeking access to the MVR recordings on the basis of OPRA and the common-law right of access. The trial court ordered disclosure of the MVR recordings. A divided Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s determination. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division panel, concurring with the panel’s dissenting judge that the MVR recordings were not “required by law” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1, that they constituted criminal investigatory records under that provision, and that they were therefore not subject to disclosure under OPRA. The Supreme Court remanded the matter to the trial court for consideration of plaintiff’s claim of a common-law right of access to the MVR recordings. View "Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutors Office" on Justia Law

by
Third-party defendant Dr. George Likakis was charged with aggravated arson and insurance fraud after a fire destroyed a building he owned (the Property). Plaintiff RSI Bank held a first-priority mortgage on the Property, and defendant/third-party plaintiff The Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company (Providence) issued a commercial liability policy that covered the Property. Following the fire, Likakis and RSI Bank submitted insurance claims. Providence denied both sets of claims. Providence’s denial of coverage prompted the filing of two actions in the Law Division: (1) filed by Likakis against Providence; and (2) an action gave rise to this appeal: RSI Bank’s claims against Providence for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, and bad faith. Providence filed a third-party complaint against Likakis, alleging claims for indemnification. Both civil lawsuits were pending when criminal proceedings commenced against Likakis. Likakis was indicted; Providence did not object to Likakis’ admission to the PTI program, provided he paid restitution, committed to protect/compensate Providence from all claims that might be brought by RSI, and dismissal of Likakis’ suit against Providence. With Likakis’s consent - but no assessment of his ability to pay - the court also imposed the three conditions that Providence had requested. During his PTI term, Likakis paid Providence the specific restitution amount and dismissed with prejudice his lawsuit. Likakis did not make any payment related to the separate indemnification provision. With the prosecutor’s consent, the PTI court terminated Likakis’s PTI supervision and dismissed his indictment. RSI Bank and Providence settled their coverage dispute. Providence agreed to pay RSI Bank to settle all of the bank’s claims based on the insurance policy and moved for summary judgment against Likakis based on the provision of the PTI agreement. The court held that the indemnification provision of the PTI agreement was enforceable against Likakis and ordered Likakis to pay Providence the portion of the settlement funds Providence attributed to fire damage, less the amount Likakis had paid during his PTI supervisory period. Likakis appealed, and an Appellate Division panel affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding an open-ended agreement to indemnify the victim of the participant’s alleged offense for unspecified future losses was not an appropriate condition of PTI. Moreover, a restitution condition of PTI was inadmissible as evidence in a subsequent civil proceeding against the PTI participant. The indemnification provision of the PTI agreement at issue should have played no role in this civil litigation. View "RSI Bank v. The Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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