Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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In May 2011, an off-duty Newark police officer was shot and killed at a Texas Fried Chicken and Pizza Restaurant, known as the “chicken shack.” Defendant Rasul McNeil-Thomas was convicted by a jury of shooting the officer, among other crimes. In this appeal, the issue his appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court centered on the Appellate Division’s reversal of defendant’s convictions upon its findings that a brief segment of video surveillance played during summation was not admitted into evidence at trial and that, during summation, the prosecutor improperly linked defendant to one of the vehicles shown in the video. The Supreme Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the prosecutor to play the video segment during his closing remarks, and the prosecutor’s comments were reasonable and fair inferences supported by the evidence presented at trial. View "New Jersey v. McNeil-Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kareem Tillery was convicted of second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and a fourth-degree offense. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining charges against him. The trial court sentenced defendant to an extended term, and the Appellate Division upheld defendant’s conviction and sentence. The issue Tillery's appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration centered on defendant’s contention that the trial court improperly admitted into evidence his statement to police because he did not expressly or implicitly waive his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), before answering questions. Defendant also challenged his sentence, arguing that the court inappropriately considered his criminal record and evidence relating to charges as to which the jury failed to reach a verdict. The Court expressed "significant concerns" about the procedure followed in this case. "Neither the script set forth on the Miranda card nor the detective’s statement to defendant addressed whether defendant agreed to waive his rights before answering questions." However, the Court held any error in the trial court’s admission of the statement was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the State presented overwhelming independent evidence of defendant’s guilt. "And, although the State should have moved to dismiss the charges on which the jury had deadlocked before the court considered evidence relevant to those charges, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in applying three aggravating factors to impose an extended-term sentence at the high end of the statutory range." View "New Jersey v. Tillery" on Justia Law

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On a night in March 2016, defendant Susan Hyland was driving an automobile, and struck and killed sixteen-year-old Q.T., then fled the scene. She was indicted on three counts. The Prosecutor’s Office recommended against defendant’s admission into Drug Court because defendant left the scene of a fatal accident and failed to help Q.T., she was not the type of non-violent offender intended for Drug Court and would be a “danger to the community.” Defendant pled guilty to all three charges in the indictment. The trial judge analyzed the factors required to impose a drug court sentence, found defendant was likely to respond affirmatively to Drug Court probation, and sentenced her to concurrent five-year special probation Drug Court terms. The State appealed. The Appellate Division found no neither an illegal sentence nor statutory authorization, and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the State may appeal a Drug Court sentence only when the sentencing judge makes a plainly mistaken, non-discretionary, non-factual finding under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a). Because application of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a)(9) required fact-finding and an exercise of the sentencing judge’s discretion, a sentence based on application of that factor was not appealable as an illegal sentence. View "New Jersey v. Hyland" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from defendant Davon Johnson’s unsuccessful application for pretrial intervention (PTI), filed in anticipation of his indictment for third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) within 1000 feet of a school zone. In May 2014, defendant was charged with motor vehicle and CDS offenses, including violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7(a). He applied for PTI and included a statement of compelling reasons supporting his admission. The prosecutor rejected defendant’s application. The prosecutor relied on New Jersey v. Caliguiri, 158 N.J. 28 (1999), which permitted prosecutors to treat an N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 offense as a second-degree offense, thereby triggering the presumption against admission into PTI. And, quoting PTI Guideline 3(i), the prosecutor found defendant presumptively ineligible for PTI because he was charged with the “sale or dispensing” of a Schedule I or II narcotic and was not drug dependent. Following the denial of his application, a grand jury indicted defendant. Defendant appealed the denial to the trial court, which refused to disturb the prosecutor’s determination. Defendant then entered a guilty plea to third-degree possession of heroin. He appealed to the Appellate Division, arguing the prosecutor incorrectly applied the two presumptions against PTI. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted review and found that the 2009 amendments to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7’s sentencing structure reflected a more flexible sentencing policy that rendered Caliguiri’s reasoning no longer viable. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held the presumption against PTI for second-degree offenders could not be applied to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7(a) offenders. The Court also found that the presumption against PTI for the “sale” of narcotics was not applicable here because defendant was charged with possession with intent to “distribute” and there was no allegation or evidence that he sold the narcotics. The matter was remanded so that the prosecutor could reassess defendant’s application without consideration of the presumptions. View "New Jersey v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, defendants were convicted of fourth-degree operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension for driving while intoxicated (DWI) under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26. The issue presented was whether N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(c) -- which prescribed a “fixed minimum” sentence of at least 180 days without parole eligibility -- overrode N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(7)’s general sentencing option, which allowed a court to impose a sentence that was served “at night or on weekends with liberty to work or to participate in training or educational programs,” unless otherwise provided. All five defendants -- Rene Rodriguez, Elizabeth Colon, Eric Lowers, Stephen Nolan, and Courtney Swiderski -- appeared before the same judge and were sentenced to 180 days in the county jail, to be served intermittently. Rodriguez and Colon were ordered to serve their sentences four nights per week, while Lowers, Nolan, and Swiderski were ordered to serve their sentences on weekends. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the language chosen by the Legislature in enacting New Jersey’s Code of Criminal Justice (the Criminal Code or Title 2C) as interpreted by the Court meant that an individual sentenced to a fixed minimum term of parole ineligibility under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(c) could not serve his or her sentence intermittently at night or on weekends pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(7). The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "New Jersey v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Defendant Shameik Byrd sold heroin to defendants Noel Ferguson and Anthony Potts in Paterson, New Jersey. Afterwards, Ferguson and Potts returned to their home state of New York where they sold the heroin they purchased to Kean Cabral in the Town of Warwick. Cabral died of an overdose in his home after taking the heroin originally sold by Byrd. As a result of allegedly causing Cabral’s death, Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd were charged with violating New Jersey’s strict-liability drug-induced death statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. Generally, the State can exercise territorial jurisdiction when either the defendant’s conduct or the result of that conduct occurs in New Jersey and is an element of a criminal offense. However, absent a clear legislative purpose indicating otherwise, a defendant cannot be prosecuted for “conduct charged” in New Jersey when that defendant’s acts within the State's borders cause a result in another state where, under that state’s law, the “conduct charged” does not constitute a crime. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that New Jersey’s Code of Criminal Justice restricted the State’s exercise of territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd for a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), the State could not exercise territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson and Potts on the strict-liability drug-induced death charge because their distribution of heroin to Cabral and Cabral’s death did not occur in New Jersey. View "New Jersey v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether defendant A.M., who spoke limited English, waived his constitutional right against self-incrimination pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. A.M. was convicted on multiple counts of the sexual assault of his fourteen year old step-granddaughter. Because defendant spoke little English and stated that he was more comfortable with Spanish, Detective Richard Ramos assisted in translating the interview from English to Spanish. The entire interview was video-recorded to a DVD and later transcribed in English by a clerk-typist employed by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. Before the interview, Detective Ramos reviewed with defendant a Spanish-language form prepared by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which listed each of defendant’s Miranda rights and contained a waiver paragraph. Detective Ramos read defendant his Miranda rights from the Spanish-language form, pausing after reading each one to ask defendant in Spanish if he understood. Defendant replied “sí” each time and initialed each line. Detective Ramos then handed the form to defendant to review the waiver portion and asked in Spanish, “Do you understand?” Defendant replied, “Sí,” and Detective Ramos told defendant to sign in two places, which defendant did. During the course of the interrogation that followed, defendant admitted to touching his step-granddaughter inappropriately. The Appellate Division reversed, finding the State failed to prove defendant made a voluntary decision to waive his Miranda rights. Although the Supreme Court surmised the better practice would have been to read aloud the form’s waiver portion to defendant, it relied on the trial court’s "well-supported observations and factual findings" and reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment. View "New Jersey v. A.M." on Justia Law

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Defendant Adrian Vincenty argued two detectives failed to inform him of the criminal charges filed against him when they interrogated him and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. Relying on New Jersey v. A.G.D., 178 N.J. 56, 68 (2003), Vincenty filed a motion to suppress statements he made to the detectives. The trial court denied his motion in part and granted it in part. The trial court held that the detectives did not violate A.G.D., but the court suppressed the statements Vincenty made to the detectives after he invoked his right to counsel. Vincenty pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted murder and was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment with an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier. Vincenty appealed the denial of his motion to suppress. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s denial of Vincenty’s motion to suppress. According to the Appellate Division, the record showed that Vincenty was informed of the charges pending against him before he waived his right against self-incrimination. Thus, the Appellate Division held, the detectives did not contravene A.G.D. After its review, the New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, finding the record revealed the detectives failed to inform Vincenty of the charges filed against him when they read him his rights and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. "That failure deprived Vincenty of the ability to knowingly and intelligently waive his right against self-incrimination. Pursuant to A.G.D., Vincenty’s motion to suppress should have been granted." The Court thus reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Vincenty" on Justia Law

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Michael Miller was convicted of possessing and distributing over 900 images and videos of child pornography through the use of online peer-to-peer file-sharing programs. He was also in possession of thirty-three CDs and DVDs, eleven of which contained photographs and recordings of child pornography separate from those found on his computer. The trial court ultimately sentenced Miller to seven years’ imprisonment for the distribution charge and one year of imprisonment for the possession charge. The court determined that the sentences must run consecutively, reasoning that Miller’s crimes “were independent of one another, involv[ing] separate acts committed at different times.” In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether it was an abuse of discretion for a trial court to apply aggravating factor one when sentencing a defendant convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography, and whether Miller was appropriately sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment. The Court concluded the Appellate Division’s opinion deprived trial judges of their discretion to make nuanced assessments of the nature and circumstances of offenses involving child pornography. Miller’s possession charge involved child pornographic material beyond that involved in his distribution charge -- there was pornographic material in Miller’s possession for an extended period of time that was not encompassed in the distribution charge. The possession and distribution offenses were therefore distinct, and the trial court appropriately determined that the offenses did not merge for sentencing purposes. View "New Jersey v.Miller" on Justia Law

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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