Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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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

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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

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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