Justia New Jersey Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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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In 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s holding that Koger Distributed Solutions, Inc. (KDS) and Koger Professional Services, Inc. (KPS) had value as independent entities rather than being solely dependent on their parent company, Koger Inc. (Koger). The Court also held that Robert Sipko’s relinquishment of his 50 percent interests in KDS and KPS in 2006 was void for lack of consideration. The matter was remanded the trial court to determine what, if any, remedy was appropriate to compensate Robert for his interests in KDS and KPS -- companies that were rendered valueless by the time the matter reached the Supreme Court. In 2016, the trial court held that the appropriate remedy was a buyout of Robert’s interests in the companies given the court’s finding that George and Rastislav Sipko deliberately stripped the companies of value for the specific purpose of putting the money beyond Robert’s reach. The trial court accepted Robert’s expert’s valuation of the companies and found that KDS and KPS, at the time Robert filed the complaint in 2007, were worth approximately $1.5 million and $34.9 million, respectively. Accordingly, Robert’s 50 percent ownership in both companies totaled over $18 million, plus interest. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed that a buyout was the appropriate remedy given the record. The court, however, remanded the matter for the trial court to determine whether a marketability discount should be applied. In light of all the defendants’ conduct regarding KDS and KPS to strip Robert of his rightful interests, “equity cannot abide imposing a marketability discount to the benefit of defendants.” The trial court’s acceptance of Robert’s expert’s valuation of the company fell within its broad discretion and was fully supported by the record. Defendants were given the opportunity to present an expert valuation of the companies on remand but made the strategic decision not to do so. Therefore, the Supreme Court declined to provide defendants with “another bite of this thoroughly chewed apple,” and reinstated the judgment of the trial court. View "Sipko v. Koger, Inc." 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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Plaintiff Ann Samolyk sustained neurological and cognitive injuries when she entered a lagoon in Forked River to rescue her neighbors’ dog, which had fallen or jumped into the water. Samolyk’s husband filed a civil action against defendants, alleging they were liable under the rescue doctrine by negligently allowing their dog to fall or jump into the water, prompting Samolyk to attempt to save the dog. Neither the Law Division nor the Appellate Division found the doctrine applicable. The issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review reduced to whether the common law rescue doctrine could be expanded to permit plaintiffs to recover damages for injuries sustained as a proximate result of attempting to rescue defendants’ dog. After reviewing the "noble principles that infuse the public policy underpinning this cause of action," the Supreme Court declined to consider property, in whatever form, to be equally entitled to the unique value and protection bestowed on a human life. The Court nevertheless expanded the rescue doctrine to include acts that appear to be intended to protect property but were in fact reasonable measures ultimately intended to protect a human life. Judgment was affirmed. View "Samolyk v. Berthe" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mengxi Liu, the successful bidder in a real estate auction conducted by defendant Max Spann Real Estate and Auction Co. (Max Spann), asserted as a defense to the seller’s breach of contract action that the contract she signed to purchase the property was void and unenforceable. In her appeal of the trial court’s judgment finding her in breach of her contract, Liu argued that the agreement was unenforceable because a licensed real estate salesperson employed by Max Spann wrote her name and address as the buyer and purchase price information on blank spaces in a template sales contract following the auction. Liu contended that this activity constituted the unauthorized practice of law because the contract did not provide for the three-day attorney review period as mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that a residential real estate sale by absolute auction was distinct from a traditional real estate transaction in which a buyer and seller negotiate the contract price and other terms and memorialize their agreement in a contract. In an absolute auction or an auction without reserve, the owner unconditionally offers the property for sale and the highest bid creates a final and enforceable contract at the auction’s conclusion, subject to applicable contract defenses. “Were we to impose the three-day attorney review prescribed in [the controlling case law] on residential real estate sales conducted by absolute auction, we would fundamentally interfere with the method by which buyers and sellers choose to conduct such sales.” The Court found no unauthorized practice of law in this case and held that the contract signed by Liu was valid and enforceable. View "Sullivan v. Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co." 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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Plaintiff Aleice Jeter filed a negligence claim against Sam’s Club after sustaining injuries when she slipped on one or more grapes. Plaintiff stated that she fell while walking away from the checkout area, “halfway past” the fruit and vegetable aisle. Sam’s Club asserted several defenses, including lack of actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition -- loose grapes on the floor. The trial court, after acknowledging that no party had moved for summary judgment, sua sponte conducted an N.J.R.E. 104(a) hearing to determine whether the "mode of operation" rule applied and, if not, whether plaintiff could provide some evidence of actual or constructive notice. The court agreed with Sam’s Club that the mode of operation rule did not apply, then proceeded to analyze the case under traditional negligence principles that require actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition -- grapes on the floor. Finding that there was no evidence as to “how long this particular grape [was] on the floor,” the court held that plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proving actual or constructive notice and dismissed the case with prejudice. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "Jeter v. Sam's Club" on Justia Law