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This appeal raised the question of whether, in cases involving a search warrant, Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B) required the State to produce the affidavit underlying the warrant prior to a pretrial detention hearing pursuant to the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26. During defendant Melvin Dickerson’s pretrial detention hearing, the court denied the State’s motion for pretrial detention. Relying on Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B), the court ordered defendant released subject to conditions as a discovery sanction for the State’s failure to produce the search warrant affidavit. On interlocutory appeal, the Appellate Division agreed that the State was obliged to produce the affidavit but held that the trial court erred by releasing defendant as a discovery sanction. Therefore, the Appellate Division directed the State to produce the affidavit and remanded for a full pretrial detention hearing. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment ordering production of the search warrant affidavit, and also found no evidence or allegation of misconduct on the part of the State justifying discovery sanctions for failure to produce the search warrant affidavit. Thus, the Court agreed with the Appellate Division that the pretrial release of defendant was in error and that the case should be remanded for a full pretrial detention hearing. View "New Jersey v. Dickerson" on Justia Law

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This appeal sought the proper standard for appellate review of pretrial detention decisions under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26. In a complaint-warrant, the State charged defendant S.N. with first-degree aggravated sexual assault on a person under the age of thirteen; fourth-degree lewdness; and second-degree child endangerment. Following defendant’s arrest, a pretrial services officer prepared a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) that rated defendant a 1 out of 6, the lowest possible risk score, for both failure to appear and new criminal activity. Despite the low risk scores, the PSA concluded “No Release Recommended.” The State then moved for pretrial detention. The prosecution certified that there was a “serious risk” that “defendant will not appear in court,” and “defendant will pose a danger to any other person or the community.” The certification stated, “[d]efendant’s victim is his step-daughter. Defendant is a risk to harm and intimidate his victim and her mother and to obstruct justice by interfering with the investigation and witnesses. Defendant is a risk of flight because his biological mother and sister live in Canada.” The trial court found that the State had established probable cause that defendant committed the charged offenses. The court specifically found that defendant was eligible for detention under the statute. The court gave “great weight to [the No Early Release Act]NERA, the fact that this is a NERA offense and first degree, the dual citizenship, due to the extensi[ve] exposure of incarceration if convicted, the fact that release was not recommended, and the fact that this is considered a violent offense.” The Appellate Division reversed and released defendant with conditions, finding the trial court abused its discretion by not considering defendant’s age, level of prior criminal involvement and ties to the community.” The Appellate Division required as part of defendant’s release that “defendant must report to pretrial detention as frequently as necessary to determine his compliance with restraining orders prohibiting him from having any contact with the victim or her family . . . . [and] must surrender his passport.” The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court abused its discretion, finding that the trial court’s decision rested on an “impermissible basis,” “fail[ed] to take into consideration all relevant factors,” including defendant’s characteristics as he stood before the court, and “reflects a clear error in judgment.” The next appropriate procedural step was to remand the matter to the trial court to determine the suitable conditions of release: Remand is required because the trial court has the opportunity at a detention hearing to “hear and see witnesses” and gain a “'feel’ of the case which a reviewing court cannot enjoy.” View "New Jersey v. S.N." on Justia Law

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The Appellate Division reversed defendant Tormu Prall’s conviction, finding that: (1) his prior threat to kill his girlfriend, Jessie Harley, was admitted in error and without a limiting instruction; (2) the State improperly utilized prior bad act evidence in closing; and (3) statements by defendant’s brother John Prall to John’s girlfriend Kimberly Meadows were inadmissible hearsay and did not qualify as dying declarations or excited utterances. Defendant was convicted for the arson murder of his brother. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certification and reversed the Appellate Division and reinstated defendant’s convictions. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate panel’s legal conclusions that the trial court erred by allowing evidence that defendant threatened to burn down Jessie’s homes and by admitting John’s hearsay statements to Kimberly that defendant was responsible for the arson. However, the Court found the errors were not capable of producing an unjust result because of the overwhelming weight and quality of the evidence against defendant. View "New Jersey v. Prall" on Justia Law

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Carlos Guerrero and Alex Mejia were walking in New Brunswick after a night of drinking. A video surveillance camera captured defendant Karlton Bailey approaching Guerrero from behind and putting his hand in Guerrero’s back pocket. Mejia responded by running across the street to confront defendant. The conflict quickly turned violent. Upon seeing defendant draw a gun, Mejia held his hands up in the air and backed away. Defendant followed Mejia into the street, struck him in the face, searched his pockets, and fled the scene. A Grand Jury returned an indictment (Indictment 1650) against defendant, charging him with second-degree possession of a firearm by certain persons not to possess a firearm. A second indictment (Indictment 1317) charged defendant with robbery, assault, and weapons offenses. A jury found defendant guilty on all counts of Indictment 1317. A separate jury trial on the certain persons indictment immediately followed. At that trial, defendant did not stipulate to the predicate convictions that prohibited him from possessing a firearm. The parties agreed that evidence of defendant’s prior convictions would be sanitized, that is, “redacted except for the date and the degree of the offense.” The trial court properly advised the jury that they “must disregard [their] prior verdict, and consider anew the evidence previously admitted on possession of a weapon.” The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on the sanitization and model jury charge, and whether that clean-up infringed on defendant’s constitutional right to be tried by a jury on all necessary elements of each charged offense. Over-sanitization here rendered the proof insufficient to demonstrate that the defendant previously violated a predicate offense enumerated within the certain persons statute. The New Jersey Court reversed and remanded, holding that when a defendant refuses to stipulate to a predicate offense under the certain persons statute, the State shall produce evidence of the predicate offense: the judgment of conviction with the unredacted nature of the offense, the degree of offense, and the date of conviction. Furthermore, the model jury charge on this issue had to be revised. View "New Jersey v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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In 2001, plaintiff Doreen Hayes was diagnosed with a syrinx in her thoracic spine. Plaintiff’s last MRI, prior to the accident at issue in this case, was taken in May 2007. In 2008, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by her mother, defendant Barbara Delamotte. After the 2008 accident, plaintiff underwent spinal fusion surgery on plaintiff’s C6-7 and C7-T1 vertebrae. Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint claiming that her mother and the unidentified vehicle caused the 2008 accident. Before trial, the defense retained Dr. Arthur Vasen, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine plaintiff and review her medical records, including cervical MRIs taken before and after the 2008 accident. The defense took Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition for use at trial rather than call him to give in-court testimony. At trial, plaintiff moved to have portions of Dr. Vasen’s deposition referring to reports of non-testifying doctors stricken from the video. The trial court denied the motion. At trial, defendants presented Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition. The trial court gave the jury a limiting instruction regarding the use of non-testifying experts’ opinions. Dr. Vasen testified that there were no differences between the MRIs taken before the accident in 2007 and after the accident in 2008. However, the films that Dr. Vasen showed in the tape were both labeled 2008. At the conclusion of the parties’ evidence, plaintiff’s counsel requested the opportunity to replay Dr. Vasen’s testimony during summation, and comment on the testimony, to demonstrate to the jury that the doctor compared MRI films marked with the same date. The trial court upheld defendant’s objection, and provided an additional limiting instruction as to the reports of non-testifying experts. Ultimately, the jury determined that plaintiff’s mother was solely responsible for the 2008 accident but found that plaintiff did not sustain a permanent injury proximately caused by that accident. Plaintiff was granted a new trial. At the second trial, the only issue presented was whether plaintiff sustained a permanent injury as a result of the 2008 accident. Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition was retaken for use at the second trial; plaintiff once again moved in limine to bar Dr. Vasen’s testimony about the findings of non-testifying doctors. This time, the court granted plaintiff’s motion. After the second trial, the jury found that plaintiff sustained a permanent injury proximately caused by the 2008 accident and awarded her $250,000 in damages. The Appellate Division found that the trial court improperly granted a new trial and reinstated the jury’s verdict in favor of defendant from the first trial. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division and reinstated the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following the second trial. Because the trial court’s error in preventing plaintiff from replaying a portion of the deposition during summation at the first trial resulted in a miscarriage of justice, the trial court properly granted plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. View "Hayes v. Delamotte" on Justia Law

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In this matter, a police officer pulled over a car under the belief that the vehicle was in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-61(a) and -66 because one of the vehicle’s taillights was not working. The trial court determined that the officer was mistaken about the law and granted defendant’s motion to suppress the fruits of the motor vehicle stop. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the relevant motor vehicle statutes were ambiguous and that, applying the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court in Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. ___ (2014), the officer’s stop of defendant’s car constituted at most an objectively reasonable mistake of law that should be treated in the same manner as a mistake of fact. Accordingly, the panel held that the officer’s mistake of law did not require suppression of the motor vehicle stop. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed: the Appellate Division erred in concluding that the holding in "Heien" was applicable here. Because the motor vehicle statutes pertinent here were not ambiguous, the Court did not consider the issue in light of Heien. "The officer’s stop of defendant’s motor vehicle was not an objectively reasonable mistake of law that gave rise to constitutional reasonable suspicion; the stop was therefore unconstitutional." View "New Jersey v. Sutherland" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted defendant Alexis Sanchez-Medina of various sexual-assault crimes that involved four separate victims: R.D., D.J., A.M., and A.B. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on whether defendant was denied his right to a fair trial on sexual assault charges. The prosecution asked defendant whether he had come to the United States legally. Over an objection, the jury learned that defendant had not. Next, although the allegations related to different incidents that involved four separate victims, the case rested heavily on an identification by a single witness. Despite that, neither party requested a jury charge on eyewitness identification, and the trial court did not instruct the jury on the subject. On appeal, the State acknowledged that the prosecution should not have elicited testimony about defendant’s immigration status. The panel found that defendant was not prejudiced by the testimony in light of the trial court’s limiting instructions. The Appellate Division also found that the trial court should have charged the jury on identification. The panel, though, concluded that the omission did not constitute plain error in light of the strong evidence that corroborated R.D.’s identification, specifically, defendant’s statement. The Supreme Court determined the cumulative effect of both errors denied defendant his right to a fair trial, reversed the conviction, and remanded for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Sanchez-Medina" on Justia Law

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Sixteen-year-old A.F. and her infant son lived with her biological mother, A.B., in an apartment owned by A.B.’s sister, J.F. In 2012, the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) received a referral that A.F. had run away with her infant son in September 2012. The Division dispatched a caseworker to interview A.B. at her apartment. A.B. disclosed that A.F. had run away several days earlier when A.B. took away A.F.’s laptop and cellphone as punishment for being suspended from school. The caseworker went to the high school and met with A.F. During this meeting, A.F. related that she had been staying with various friends since leaving home. A.F. indicated that she had previously returned home to reconcile with A.B. and that they had gone together to the school to have A.F. reinstated. Near the end of the conference, A.F. expressed that she had “no intention of returning to her mom’s home,” and in fact did not. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether defendant A.B. abused or neglected A.F.; that A.B. willfully abandoned A.F.; and that remarks attributed to A.B.’s sister, J.F., were subject to suppression as embedded hearsay. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division majority’s judgment that the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency met its burden of proof concerning A.B.’s abuse or neglect of A.F. The Court found insufficient proof of willful abandonment and therefore reversed on that issue. The Court also found the hearsay evidence was properly suppressed. View "New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. A.B." on Justia Law

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William Burkert and Gerald Halton were corrections officers, who held positions in different unions representing distinct classes of officers. Their relationship became strained after Burkert read online comments attributed to Halton’s wife that Burkert felt insulted him and his family. Angered by the insulting online comments, Burkert retaliated by downloading the Haltons’ wedding photograph, copied it and made two flyers, writing lewd dialogue in speech bubbles over the faces of the bride and groom. Halton testified that when he arrived at the employee garage of the Union County Jail and saw papers “blowing all over the place.” He picked one up and discovered Flyer #1. The next day, when Halton arrived at work, a sergeant handed him Flyer #2, which the sergeant had found in the area of the officers’ locker room. Halton identified the handwriting on both flyers as Burkert’s. Halton was engaged in union negotiations, a lieutenant handed him Flyer #2, stating, “This came out the other night.” Halton indicated that he “was a mess in negotiations,” went home, and never returned to work. Halton explained that he felt embarrassed and concerned for his safety and received psychological counseling and treatment. Ten months after the flyer incidents, Halton filed criminal harassment charges against Burkert. During the county’s investigation into the flyers, Burkert admitted that he had prepared the flyers but denied circulating them. Though a municipal court found Burkert guilty of harassment, a panel of the Appellate Division reversed Burkert's conviction, finding the commentary added to the wedding photograph as constitutionally protected speech. The panel also found that the vulgar commentary on the flyers did not constitute criminal harassment. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed: "Burkert’s intent to annoy was not a crime, and he did not engage in the type of repetitive acts contemplated by the statute. Therefore, Burkert is not guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense, although he may be subject to workplace discipline or a civil tort action. The language on the flyers, despite its vulgarity and meanness, is constitutionally protected from a criminal prosecution for harassment." View "New Jersey v. Burkert" on Justia Law

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Defendant Akeem Boone faced seven charges related to drugs and a weapon found during an August 2012 search of his apartment in Hackensack. He sought to suppress the evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant police had secured for his apartment, Unit 4A, because the warrant application did not include any evidence as to why that specific unit should be searched. The trial court denied Boone’s motion to suppress. It found, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the warrant application sufficiently detailed hand-to-hand transactions, counter-surveillance techniques, and past interactions with Boone to establish probable cause for a search. Subsequently, Boone pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and a related weapons offense. The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the application contained “adequate circumstantial indicia” to support issuing a warrant to search Boone’s apartment unit. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed: although police submitted a detailed warrant application that included information about Boone’s alleged drug-dealing in the general area, nothing in the application specified how police knew Boone lived in Unit 4A or why that unit -- one of thirty units in the building -- should have been searched. Because the warrant affidavit failed to provide specific information as to why Boone’s apartment and not other units should be searched, the warrant application was deficient. Accordingly, the judgment of the Appellate Division was reversed and Boone's convictions vacated. View "New Jersey v. Boone" on Justia Law