Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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One week after defendants’ murder trial began, after counsel made opening statements and examined four of the State’s witnesses, the prosecutor turned over to defense counsel nineteen reports that were in the State’s possession but had not previously been provided to defendants. Defendants moved to dismiss the indictment with prejudice. The trial court did not resolve the dismissal motion, and the case continued. At trial, the court made several significant evidentiary rulings. One ruling reversed the pretrial holding of another judge by admitting the murder victim’s dying declaration heard by the victim’s wife. Another ruling excluded as unreliable a police officer’s affidavit used in four separate search warrant applications. The excluded affidavit was offered by defendants as evidence to impeach the victim’s wife and was relevant to a defense of third-party guilt. At the conclusion of the trial, a jury convicted defendants of murder. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the State’s failure to produce nineteen discovery items until one week after the beginning of defendants’ murder trial violated defendants’ due process rights under Brady. Though there was no evidence or allegation that the State acted in bad faith or intentionally in failing to timely produce the discoverable material, the Court nonetheless reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division, vacated defendants’ convictions, and remanded for a new trial because defendants were deprived of a fair trial. View "New Jersey v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Police officers responded to a noise complaint at a motel room and determined not to issue a summons when the renter of the room immediately complied with their request to turn down the music. Police nevertheless conducted an investigatory detention on a group of ten people and ran warrant checks on them. More than twenty minutes into the detention, police arrested defendant Deyvon Chisum for an outstanding warrant and discovered a concealed firearm on him. They then conducted pat-down searches on the remaining occupants and found a firearm on defendant Keshown Woodard. The trial court denied defendants’ motions to suppress the firearms, finding the police entered the motel room lawfully, Chisum was properly arrested because he had an outstanding warrant, and the seizure of the firearm he possessed was obtained through a lawful search incident to arrest. The trial court also found that the police were justified in conducting pat-down searches of the remaining occupants in the room for the officers’ safety. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court's findings. Once the renter of the motel room lowered the volume of the music and the police declined to issue summonses, the police no longer had any reasonable suspicion that would justify the continued detention of the room’s occupants. Once the noise was abated, the police no longer had an independent basis to detain the occupants, or a basis to run warrant checks on them. Such action was unlawful. And because the detention and warrant checks were unlawful, the subsequent pat-down of Woodard was also improper. Therefore, the Court reversed the Appellate Division and remanded this case to the trial court for the withdrawal of defendants’ guilty pleas and further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Chisum" on Justia Law

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Law enforcement officers arrested defendant Laurie Wint on a New Jersey murder charge and brought him to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office for questioning. Wint invoked his right to counsel after receiving Miranda warnings, and the interrogation ceased. Immediately afterwards, two detectives from Pennsylvania investigating an unrelated murder in Bucks County entered the interrogation room to question Wint. After receiving his rights for the second time, Wint again requested the presence of counsel, ending the interrogation. Wint remained in continuous pre-indictment custody in Camden County when, six months later, he was transported to Bucks County. There, Pennsylvania detectives again administered Miranda warnings but did not provide counsel as Wint had earlier requested. This time, Wint waived his rights and allegedly incriminated himself in the New Jersey murder. The trial court denied Wint’s motion to suppress his incriminating remarks believing that Wint reinitiated communication with the Pennsylvania detectives. With the admission of Wint’s incriminating statements at trial, a jury convicted Wint of passion/provocation manslaughter and other related offenses. The issues this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration centered on whether Pennsylvania detectives violated Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), by attempting to question defendant in Camden and later questioning him in Pennsylvania after he earlier requested counsel. The Court also considered the exceptions to the rule requiring the suppression of any statement secured during a subsequent custodial interrogation after a defendant requests counsel: whether (1) counsel was provided during the questioning, (2) defendant initiated the communication, or (3) a break in custody occurred. The Court concluded the Pennsylvania detectives violated Edwards by attempting to question Wint in Camden after his earlier request for counsel, and Wint did not initiate the interrogation that occurred in Bucks County. The giving of repeated Miranda warnings did not cure the Edwards violation. Pre-indictment, pretrial detainment did not qualify as a break in custody under Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010), and none of the exceptions set forth in Edwards applied here. Edwards required suppression of Wint’s incriminating statement concerning the shooting in Camden; the admission of that statement was not harmless error. View "New Jersey v. Wint" on Justia Law

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In March 2017, police officers responded to a report of a shooting in a parking lot at Lafayette Gardens in Jersey City and found Terrel Smith’s body; he had been shot multiple times. The police identified “Michael Gregg” as a witness and interviewed him. Over time, he made two separate -- and inconsistent -- statements. Gregg identified defendant Shaquan Hyppolite from a photo array. Defendant was charged and arrested for murder and weapons offenses. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint stated that “an eyewitness . . . positively identified Shaquan Hyppolite AKA Quan as the actor who” killed Terrel Smith. The State moved for pretrial detention the next day. Two days later, the State made available fifty-one pages of discovery materials and a DVD recording of Gregg’s interview. On the day of the detention hearing, the State also turned over a four-page written summary of that interview titled “Second Interview of [Gregg].” The State did not disclose Gregg’s first statement before the hearing. At the detention hearing, the court ordered that defendant be detained. Two months later, a grand jury indicted defendant. The State turned over additional discovery, including Gregg’s first statement to the police, recordings of interviews of "Bill" and "Frank," and an application for a communications data warrant for Gregg’s cell phone. This marked the first time defendant received Gregg’s initial statement to the police, in which he denied having seen the shooter. Bill’s statement revealed that he told the police he was in jail at the time of the homicide. Frank told the police that he was en route to Popeyes when he heard gunshots from Lafayette Gardens. The application for the communications data warrant noted that an eyewitness saw the victim engaged in a conversation with three men before the shooting, “which conflicts with [Gregg’s] version of events.” Based on the new discovery, defendant moved to reopen the detention hearing. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that when exculpatory evidence is disclosed after a detention hearing, judges should use a modified materiality standard to decide whether to reopen the hearing. "If there is a reasonable possibility that the result of the detention hearing would have been different had the evidence been disclosed, the hearing should be reopened." Applying that standard in this case, the Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to reopen the detention hearing. View "New Jersey v. Hyppolite" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carlos Green Green struck and killed Billy Dudley, who was lying in the road on a late night in December 2014. A toxicology lab determined Green’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be 0.210% at the time of the accident. Green had two prior DWI convictions in 1998 and 2009, for which his sentences each required completion of an educational course at the Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC). Dudley died as a result of his injuries and Green was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide while intoxicated and within 1,000 feet of a school. Before trial, the State moved in limine to introduce Green’s two prior DWI convictions, which the State argued were relevant to the issue of recklessness. According to the State, the prior convictions demonstrated that Green “had knowledge of the substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with driving while intoxicated.” The trial court denied the State’s motion to introduce those prior convictions; the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's decision. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding those prior convictions. View "New Jersey v. Green" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on the State’s use of the Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C (Alcotest) to obtain breath samples from drivers suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. In 2008, the Supreme Court found Alcotest results admissible in drunk-driving cases to establish a defendant’s guilt or innocence for drunk driving. The Court also required that the devices be recalibrated semi-annually to help ensure accurate measurements. Defendant Eileen Cassidy pleaded guilty in municipal court to driving under the influence based solely on Alcotest results showing her blood alcohol level had exceeded the legal limit. Upon learning that the results of her test were among those called into question from the New Jersey State Police’s Alcohol Drug Testing Unit; the coordinator responsible for administering the calibrations was criminally charged, and the samples taken from some 20,000 people were procured by machines calibrated by that coordinator. Cassidy moved to withdraw her guilty plea. A special master issued a 198-page report concluding the reliability of the Alcotest had been undermined by the coordinator’s faulty calibrations. As such, the State could not carry its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence the Alcotest was scientifically reliable. The Supreme Court exercised its original jurisdiction to vacate Cassidy’s conviction. View "New Jersey v. Cassidy" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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