Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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Petitioner F.E.D., seventy-three years old, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and would not be eligible for parole until 2040. In February 2021, the Managing Physician of the New Jersey Department of Corrections submitted to the Commissioner of Corrections a Request for Compassionate Release on behalf of F.E.D. Based on the diagnoses provided by the attesting physicians, the Managing Physician found that F.E.D. “meets the medical conditions established” by N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1), the Commissioner issued a Certificate of Eligibility for Compassionate Release. A trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. With regard to whether F.E.D. suffered from a “permanent physical incapacity” as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(1), the trial court relied on the list of “activities of daily living” enumerated in the administration of New Jersey’s Medicaid program, which the court identified to be bathing, dressing, toileting, locomotion, transfers, eating and bed mobility. Applying that standard to the medical diagnoses presented in F.E.D.’s petition for compassionate release, the trial court observed that the attesting physicians had found a diminished ability in instrumental activities of daily living but not an inability to perform activities of basic daily living. The court accordingly found that F.E.D. had not presented clear and convincing evidence that he suffered from a “permanent physical incapacity” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1). The Appellate Division found that the Certificate of Eligibility for compassionate release that the Department issued to F.E.D. was invalid based on its view that the Compassionate Release Statute applied only to inmates whose medical conditions rendered them unable to perform any of the activities of basic daily living, and to be inapplicable to any inmate who could conduct one or more of those activities. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Compassionate Release Statute did not require that an inmate prove that he is unable to perform any activity of basic daily living in order to establish a “permanent physical incapacity” under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(l). Rather, the statute required clear and convincing evidence that the inmate’s condition rendered him permanently unable to perform two or more activities of basic daily living, necessitating twenty-four-hour care. Assessing F.E.D.’s proofs in accordance with the statutory standard, the Supreme Court found he did not present clear and convincing evidence that his medical condition gave rise to a permanent physical incapacity under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(f)(1). View "New Jersey v. F.E.D." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on whether reasonable and articulable suspicion existed when a police officer conducted an investigatory stop of defendant Nazier Goldsmith on a walkway adjacent to a vacant house. Two police officers were on patrol in Camden in what they believed to be a “high- crime area” known for shootings and drug dealing. Based on his training, 20 years of experience, and his belief that the vacant house was used for the sale of drugs and weapons, Officer Joseph Goonan found it suspicious that defendant was on the walkway next to the vacant house and believed defendant was engaged in drug dealing activity. So the officers approached defendant, blocked his path at the end of the walkway, and began questioning him, asking for his name and for an explanation of his presence on that walkway. Defendant was ultimately charged with weapons and drug offenses. Defendant moved to suppress the gun and drugs, arguing that both the stop and frisk were unlawful because they were not based on reasonable suspicion. The trial court granted the motion, finding the stop lawful but the frisk unlawful. Because the trial court held the frisk to be unlawful, all the seized evidence (the gun, ammunition, drugs, and money) was suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that based on the totality of the circumstances -- including defendant’s presence in a high-crime area and his behavior and body language -- the officer’s frisk of defendant was objectively reasonable. The Supreme Court found that the information the officers possessed at the time of the stop did not amount to specific and particularized suspicion that defendant was engaged in criminal activity. Therefore, the officers did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate an investigatory detention of defendant. The Court reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment and reinstated the trial court’s suppression order. View "New Jersey v. Goldsmith" on Justia Law

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On January 3, 2016, police found James Dewyer without a pulse in his silver Dodge on the side of a Mansfield, New Jersey road. That morning, Dewyer had picked up defendant Quinnizel Clark at a motel in Mansfield, and the men drove to a casino. Cameras in front of the motel showed defendant and Dewyer return to the motel and then depart in Dewyer’s car in the afternoon. Surveillance video showed defendant later return to the motel alone and then leave in different clothes. Ten days later, Detective Wayne Raynor and another officer interviewed defendant about Dewyer’s death. Defendant was read his Miranda rights and waived those rights. After approximately 40 minutes, Detective Raynor began to confront defendant with his belief that defendant murdered Dewyer and pressed defendant about his alibi. Defendant responded, “charge me, call my attorney Mr. Keisler over here, charge me and let’s go.” The interrogation continued and Detective Raynor expressed that if he were in defendant’s shoes, he would tell the officers who he was with so that he was “not on the hook for [the murder].” Detective Raynor suggested that defendant did not want to tell them who he had been with during the time of the murder because he was lying. Defendant said, “[i]f it’s game over, charge me, go get my attorney, charge me, and let’s go to court.” The interrogation ended when defendant requested his attorney a third time. Defendant was charged with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. In this appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether it was harmful error to allow the jury to hear the portion of defendant's statement to police after he invoked his right to counsel but the interrogation continued. Once defendant invoked his right to counsel, the interrogation should have stopped. The Court held that allowing the entire exchange to be played for the jury was harmful error. In addition, the error was compounded when the prosecutor commented on that portion of the statement that should have never been before the jury in the first place. The Appellate Division vacated defendant’s conviction and remanded the matter for further proceedings based on cumulative error. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded for a new trial. View "New Jersey v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, at approximately 10:20 p.m., Trenton detectives stopped defendant David Smith’s motor vehicle for a purported tinted windows violation after the detectives observed dark tinting on defendant’s rear windshield. Despite the rear windshield’s tint, detectives were able to see that defendant was alone in the car and was making a furtive “shoving” motion, raising suspicions that he was trying to conceal a weapon. When the detectives searched the vehicle, they found a firearm. The detectives cited defendant for a tinted windows violation and charged him with various weapons offenses. In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a purported violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 based on tinted windows justified an investigatory stop of a motor vehicle. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found the stop at issue here was not supported by a reasonable and articulable suspicion of a motor vehicle violation. "Consistent with the plain language of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74, reasonable and articulable suspicion of a tinted windows violation arises only when a vehicle’s front windshield or front side windows are so darkly tinted that police cannot clearly see people or articles within the car." View "New Jersey v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This appeal posed a narrow question for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review: whether a particular defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial was violated. Defendant Marcus Mackroy-Davis was arrested on November 11, 2019 in connection with a drive-by shooting in which one person was killed. A complaint against Mackroy-Davis charged him with conspiracy to commit murder, and the State moved to detain him pending trial. The court entered an order of detention on December 23, 2019. On February 13, 2020, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Mackroy-Davis with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and obstruction. Defendant maintained his innocence and stated he intended to go to trial. Consistent with guidance from public health officials, the Judiciary for more than a year was unable to summon jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, and the parties for in-person jury trials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the Supreme Court entered fourteen omnibus orders that tolled the clock for the start of criminal trials for a total of 461 days. The New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) replaced New Jersey’s prior system of pretrial release with a risk-based system that, for the first time, allowed judges to detain high-risk defendants pretrial. In October 2021, the State obtained a superseding indictment that added three new charges against Mackroy-Davis stemming from information the State learned from a codefendant in May 2020. The parties returned to court to arraign Mackroy-Davis on the superseding indictment on November 15, 2021. Over defendant’s objection, the court ordered excludable time “due to extenuating circumstances.” The following day, the court entered two orders for excludable time, one for 59 days and a second for 159 days. The court also set a trial date of April 22, 2022, at which time, the State announced it was ready to proceed. The Supreme Court determined that because the prosecution announced it was ready to proceed to trial at the two-year mark, defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial was not violated. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court and remanded the case for trial. View "New Jersey v. Mackroy-Davis" on Justia Law

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On the morning of February 24, 2014, defendant Abayuba Rivas went to the Police Department and reported that his wife Karla Villagra Garzon was missing. Over the next several days, Rivas gave statements to the police to assist in the missing-persons investigation. Rivas stated that he had left his two-year-old daughter home alone while he drove around looking for Karla, who, he thought, may have had a liaison with someone. Rivas was ultimately arrested and incarcerated for child endangerment and providing false information to the police. After a suicide attempt while held in jail, Rivas was taken to a local hospital. After reading Rivas his Miranda rights, the detectives questioned him, and Rivas soon departed from his earlier story. The next afternoon, on March 18, detectives returned to the hospital and began a nearly six-hour question-and-answer session. The detectives had Rivas read aloud each of his Miranda rights and then asked him if he understood those rights. He answered in the affirmative but repeatedly queried the detectives about his right to an attorney. During the continued interrogation, Rivas confessed to killing Karla. On March 19, Rivas was discharged from the hospital and transported to the police station, where he gave a videotaped statement. Rivas was read his Miranda rights and informed that his family was prepared to retain an attorney to represent him. Despite that information, Rivas waived his rights and indicated his willingness to speak with the detectives. The trial court ultimately found that Rivas’s statements about his desire to secure counsel were “objectively unclear and ambiguous,” and therefore the detectives had the duty either to clarify the ambiguity or cease questioning. The trial court suppressed the March 18 statement but found the March 19 statements admissible. The New Jersey Supreme Court suppressed the March 19 statements too, finding Rivas never freely initiated further conversations with the detectives, further questioning of defendant was barred. “That Rivas waived his Miranda rights on March 19 -- a day later -- does not alter the equation. A violation under Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), is not subject to an attenuation analysis. Therefore, Rivas’s March 19 statements must be suppressed.” View "New Jersey v. Rivas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ashley Bailey and Edwin Ingram married in 2011 and remained married until Ingram’s death in 2016. They had two children. In April 2014, the New Jersey State Police commenced an investigation of an alleged drug distribution network operating in Camden. The investigators identified Ingram and his brother, his half-brother, and three other men as targets of the investigation. Investigators wiretapped phones associated with defendant, her husband, and other targets of the investigation. Police arrested targets of the investigation and defendant in October 2014. Defendant gave two statements in the immediate aftermath of her arrest, admitting she had accessed the LEAA system to review police reports on Ingram and his associates, but denied that her actions were intended to benefit Ingram or anyone else. Defendant claimed that she made numerous phone calls to her husband’s associates in an attempt to locate him and denied that the abrupt decrease in the number of calls was related to the wiretaps. Shortly before trial, defendant moved to exclude the text messages that she exchanged with Ingram on the ground that they were protected by the marital communications privilege. Defendant argued that because the Legislature had not yet amended N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-22 to adopt the crime-fraud exception to the marital communications privilege when she and Ingram exchanged the text messages, the trial court should not apply that exception. The trial court admitted the text messages into evidence, and the State read them into the record. The jury acquitted defendant of conspiracy but convicted her of both counts of official misconduct. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the crime-fraud exception could not be properly applied to marital communications that preceded the Legislature’s amendment of N.J.R.E. 509. The Court found no evidence that the Legislature intended that amendment to retroactively apply to otherwise privileged marital communications that occurred prior to that amendment. The trial court’s admission of the text messages therefore constituted error. However, that error was harmless given the extensive evidence presented by the State in support of defendant’s official misconduct convictions. View "New Jersey v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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In 2020, the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1 to add a new mitigating factor fourteen: “[t]he defendant was under 26 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense.” N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(14). It provided that “[t]his new act shall take effect immediately.” L. 2020, c. 110, § 2. In this appeal, the Court considers defendant Rahee Lane’s argument that the new mitigating factor should be applied to defendants who were under twenty-six years old at the time of their offenses, if their direct appeals were pending when the statute was amended. The New Jersey Supreme Court construed N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(14) to be prospective, finding in the statutory language no indication that mitigating factor fourteen applied to defendants sentenced prior to the provision’s effective date. The Court viewed N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(14)’s legislative history to confirm the Legislature’s intent to authorize sentencing courts to consider the new mitigating factor in imposing a sentence on or after the date of the amendment. View "New Jersey v. Lane" on Justia Law

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In 2010, a joint task force of local and federal law enforcement began investigating Mykal Derry, the leader of a drug organization, and his brother, Malik, among others. During the course of the investigation, a man was shot and killed in Atlantic City. A federal grand jury indicted nineteen individuals involved with the Derry drug organization in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Defendants were convicted of various drug offenses, as well as the discharge of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking crime. Following their federal convictions, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office indicted defendants, as relevant here, for murder and conspiracy to commit murder. In federal court, defendants received a sentence enhancement that applied if a victim was killed under circumstances that would constitute murder. The federal prosecutor did not seek restitution because he was informed that New Jersey had charged defendants with murder and would seek restitution in state court. The District Court ultimately sentenced defendants to life without parole on the drug trafficking conviction; a concurrent term of four years on all other drug and conspiracy convictions; ten years on the discharge of a firearm conviction, to be served consecutively to the life sentence; and ten years’ supervised release. Defendants moved to dismiss their state-court indictment under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(f), arguing that the federal prosecution already captured the murder because the discharge of a firearm charge covered the shooting of the victim. They further contended that the sentencing enhancement and resultant term of life-plus-ten-years adequately served New Jersey’s interests such that dismissal was in the interest of justice. The trial court denied their motion. Based on the differences between the federal and state proceedings, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment. View "New Jersey v. Derry" on Justia Law

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Around midnight on May 7, 2011, a 7-Eleven was robbed. At approximately 12:15 a.m., Sergeant Mark Horan of the Hamilton Township Police Department received a transmission about the armed robbery, which “had just occurred.” Horan testified that the dispatch described the suspects “as two Black males, one with a handgun.” Horan activated the lights and sirens on his marked patrol car and drove towards the 7-Eleven. Approximately three-quarters of a mile from the 7-Eleven, Horan saw a car approaching in the oncoming traffic lane. He illuminated the inside of the vehicle and observed three Black males; “[t]he description of the suspects was two Black males so at that point I decided to issue a motor vehicle stop on the second vehicle.” Horan later explained that he was also struck by the lack of reaction to the spotlight by the occupants of the car, and that he “took into consideration the short distance from the scene, as well as the short amount of time from the call” as he made the stop. Defendant Peter Nyema was sitting in the passenger seat, and defendant Jamar Myers was in the rear passenger-side seat. The dispatcher advised Horan that the vehicle had been reported stolen. All three occupants were placed under arrest. More officers arrived on the scene, and while several officers secured the arrestees, others assisted Horan in searching for a weapon. Officers searched other parts of the vehicle, locating additional clothing in the trunk and a black semi-automatic handgun under the hood. Searches of the men themselves yielded just under $600 cash. Approximately $600 was reported stolen from the 7-Eleven. The vehicle was then impounded, and police transported the three men to the police station. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review in this case was whether reasonable and articulable suspicion existed when Horan conducted an investigatory stop of defendants' vehicle. The Supreme Court determined the only information the officer possessed at the time of the stop was the race and sex of the suspects, with no further descriptors. "That information, which effectively placed every single Black male in the area under the veil of suspicion, was insufficient to justify the stop of the vehicle and therefore does not withstand constitutional scrutiny." View "New Jersey v. Myers" on Justia Law