Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined: (1) what the appropriate standard of appellate review of a trial court's factual findings was based solely on the court's viewing of a video-recorded police interrogation; and (2) whether defendant invoked his right to remain silent during the interrogation. In 2011, defendant S.S. was tried before a jury and convicted of first-degree aggravated sexual assault of his six-year-old daughter, and second-degree endangering the welfare of his child. The trial court sentenced defendant to a fifteen-year prison term on the sexual-assault charge, subject to the No Early Release Act, and to a concurrent five-year term on the endangering charge. The Appellate Division reversed those convictions for reasons unrelated to this appeal and ordered a new trial. The Supreme Court denied the State's petition for certification, and defendant's cross-petition. Relying solely on a review of the video-recorded interrogation, the trial court found that defendant asserted his right to silence when he said, "that's all I got to say. That's it." The trial court suppressed all statements made after that utterance because the investigators failed to honor defendant's invocation of his right to remain silent in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). A panel of the Appellate Division engaged in a de novo review of the video-recorded interrogation and reversed, making its own factual findings based on defendant's tone of voice and the flow of the interview, concluding that defendant did not assert his right to remain silent. The Supreme Court found the trial court's factual determination, based solely on its review of the video-recorded interrogation, was supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. Although the Appellate Division and trial court drew different inferences from the record, the Supreme Court concluded that the inferences drawn by the trial court were reasonable and that the trial court's ultimate determination was not clearly mistaken. View "New Jersey v. S.S." on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the scope of a municipality's obligation to disclose electronically stored information in accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Plaintiff John Paff filed a request with Galloway Township's records custodian for specific information in emails sent by the Township's Municipal Clerk and Chief of Police over a two-week period. From those emails, Paff sought only information contained within the following fields: sender, recipient, date, and subject. Paff did not request the contents of the emails. The Township contended that only the emails (not specific information embedded within them) were government records subject to disclosure under OPRA. On that basis, the Township denied the records request. The trial court ordered the production of the fields of information sought by Paff because OPRA defined a government record as information stored or maintained electronically by a municipality. A panel of the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that OPRA required only the production of the emails, not information electronically stored within them. The Supreme Court held the Appellate Division's overly constrictive reading of OPRA "cannot be squared with OPRA s objectives or statutory language." The Appellate Division erred in finding that the government record is the email itself and not the easily accessible fields of information that were maintained electronically. View "Paff v. Galloway Township" on Justia Law

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New Jersey joins the majority of jurisdictions in returning to the “Blockburger same-elements test” as the sole test for determining what constitutes the same offense for purposes of double jeopardy. In the interest of justice, the Court applied both the same-elements test and the now-replaced same-evidence test in this case; going forward, for offenses committed after the issuance of this opinion, the same-elements test will serve as the singular framework for determining whether two charges are the same offense for purposes of double-jeopardy analysis. A grand jury returned an indictment charging defendant Rodney Miles with several offenses. Defendant appeared pro se in municipal court to resolve a disorderly-persons offense. At some point before that proceeding, the original municipal charge was amended to a different disorderly-persons offense: loitering to possess marijuana. Defendant asked the municipal court judge about the charge; the judge responded that defendant was not going to Superior Court for loitering, but rather for an unrelated child support issue. Defendant then pled guilty to loitering to possess marijuana. Thereafter, defendant moved to dismiss the Superior Court indictment on double-jeopardy grounds, arguing that prosecution on the possession charges was barred because he had already pled guilty to an offense that arose from the same conduct. The Superior Court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss, reasoning that prosecution on the indicted charges was not barred because it required proof of an additional element (proximity to a school). Defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute within 1000 feet of a school, but preserved his right to appeal the denial of the motion to dismiss. Despite defendant’s expressed confusion during the municipal court plea hearing, the Superior Court concluded that the school-zone prosecution was not precluded by notions of fundamental fairness. The Appellate Division reversed the Superior Court, barring defendant’s second prosecution as a violation of double jeopardy. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Jersey v. Miles" on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered the newly enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act to address the type and scope of discovery the State must provide when it seeks to detain a defendant prior to trial. Police arrested defendant Habeeb Robinson for killing a victim. According to the affidavit, two eyewitnesses saw the shooting. One identified defendant from a six-person photo array; the other identified a photo of defendant. The Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report (PLEIR) added that a surveillance camera recorded the incident. The pending complaint charged defendant with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. The PSA recommended that defendant not be released. The State moved for pretrial detention. At the hearing, the State relied on the hearsay statements in the affidavit of probable cause (which referred to the two eyewitnesses); the presumption of detention under N.J.S.A.2A:162-19(b)(1) (based on the murder charge); defendant s criminal history and record of court appearances; and the release recommendation in the PSA. The trial court directed the State to disclose the two witness statements, the photos used in the identification process, the surveillance video, and any incident report that the police prepared. The State appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court. The Supreme Court found that Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B), on which the lower courts relied, required disclosure of the reports and the photos but not the video. The Supreme Court took this opportunity to clarify and reframe the Rule to help ensure that it struck the proper balance between two important concerns: a defendant s liberty interest and the State’s ability to seek to detain high-risk defendants before trial. View "New Jersey v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Petitioners-parolees challenged the constitutionality of the practices of the New Jersey State Parole Board in administering polygraph examinations to sex offenders serving either parole supervision for life (PSL) or community supervision for life (CSL) sentences. . Although it recognized the controversy concerning polygraph examination accuracy, the trial court explained that the Parole Board exercised care in incorporating exam results into decision-making and never used the results as the exclusive basis to justify a modification of parole. Further, the trial court found expert testimony indicating that polygraph examinations were a valuable tool in the therapeutic treatment of sex offenders to be particularly compelling. The Appellate Division thereafter upheld the Parole Board’s use of polygraph testing, subject to certain restrictions. The Supreme Court upheld the Parole Board’s use of polygraph testing with the same limitations as the Appellate Division, but added that the Parole Board’s regulations had to be further supplemented to buttress the parolees’ Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. View "J.B. v. New Jersey State Parole Board" on Justia Law

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The primary issue in this appeal involved the warrantless search of an apartment, where the police found drugs and evidence allegedly linking defendant to the apartment. Evidence seized from the apartment was the basis for multiple drug charges filed against defendant. At a suppression motion, the State argued that exigent circumstances and the need for a protective sweep justified the entry into the apartment and the seizure of evidence. The trial court upheld the search, apparently on standing grounds, finding that defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment. A panel of the Appellate Division reversed and held that because defendant had automatic standing to challenge the search based on the possessory drug charges, defendant had no burden to establish that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment. The panel also rejected the State's assertion, raised for the first time on appeal, that the apartment was abandoned. The panel remanded to the trial court to determine whether the search was justified based on the protective-sweep or exigent-circumstances doctrine. The panel also reversed defendant s conviction based on the trial court s failure to give a mere presence charge. The Supreme Court affirmed the panel s determination that defendant had automatic standing to challenge the search of the apartment because he was charged with possessory drug offenses and because the State failed to show that the apartment was abandoned or that defendant was a trespasser. Additionally, although the Court found the better course would have been to give the jury an instruction on mere presence, the failure to do so was harmless error. The Court therefore vacated the panel's judgment requiring a new trial on that issue. View "New Jersey v. Randolph" on Justia Law

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At a status conference, the State took issue with the witness list defendant produced because it listed the names of three men but did not provide identifiers, addresses, or synopses of their anticipated testimony which the State alleged was in violation of Rule3:13-3(b)(2)(C). In response, defendant agreed to produce identifiers and addresses but argued against providing synopses. Defendant asserted that the Rule required that synopses be produced only if they have already been reduced to writing. Defense counsel affirmed that no witness statement summaries had been prepared. The trial court ordered the defense to produce witness synopses and to create them if they had not been previously drafted. The court specifically ordered defense counsel to provide the State with the reason why the witnesses are on the list. The Appellate Division summarily reversed the trial court s order, reasoning that a criminal defendant s disclosures are carefully limited by the strictures of Rule3:13-3(b)(2). The Supreme Court found a plain reading of Rule3:13-3(b)(2)(C) required production of witness statements only if those statements have already been reduced to writing. Nothing in the rules precludes a trial court from ordering a defendant to designate witnesses as either character or fact witnesses, however. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Appellate Division's reversal of the discovery order as it related to the witness statements and modify the panel's determination that the trial court improperly ordered defendant to designate fact and character witnesses. View "New Jersey v. Tier" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the protective sweep exception to the warrant requirement applied to a police officer’s search of a vehicle’s passenger compartment in the wake of a traffic stop. The officer conducted a brief conversation with defendant, who was the driver, and his three passengers; the vehicle’s occupants responded to the officer’s questions with confusing and evasive answers. The officer learned defendant and one passenger had outstanding warrants and were known to carry weapons. He requested backup and was promptly joined by four other officers. The five officers removed the four occupants from the vehicle and frisked them for weapons. They arrested and handcuffed defendant and one passenger and monitored the other passengers outside of the vehicle. None of the four resisted the officers or sought access to the vehicle. The police officer who had conducted the traffic stop then searched the interior of the vehicle. The officer lifted one passenger’s purse to search the seat, recognized that a weapon was contained in the purse, and retrieved a handgun. Charged with the unlawful possession of a handgun, defendant moved to suppress the weapon on the ground that it was the product of an unconstitutional search. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. A divided Appellate Division panel reversed the trial court’s judgment. The Supreme Court concluded that although the circumstances gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that there was a weapon in the vehicle, the five officers’ swift and coordinated action eliminated the risk that any of the four occupants would gain immediate access to the weapon. Accordingly, the protective sweep exception to the warrant requirement did not govern this case. The Court concurred with the Appellate Division majority’s determination that the community-caretaking exception to the warrant requirement was irrelevant. However, because the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule could be pertinent to this case, the Court remanded for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether a defendant seeking a waiver of the mandatory minimum sentence under the Graves Act was entitled to discovery of the prosecutor's files from cases in which other defendants were granted waivers of the mandatory minimum penalty. The Supreme Court determined defendants were not entitled to discovery of the prosecution's files for cases in which Graves Act waivers had been granted to other defendants. View "New Jersey v. Benjamin" on Justia Law

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In consolidated sentencing appeals, the issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether an amendment to the Graves Act, N.J.S.A.2C:43-6.2 (section 6.2), which authorized a prosecutor to move before the assignment judge for a waiver of the Graves Act's mandatory minimum terms of incarceration for certain first-time offenders, was properly applied in defendants sentencing proceedings. The Court also considered whether sentencing judges have the discretion to elect one of the two alternative sentences set forth in section 6.2: to place the defendant on probation . . . or reduce to one year the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment during which the defendant will be ineligible for parole. After review, the Supreme Court concluded section 6.2 was misapplied in defendants' sentencing proceedings and therefore defendants should have been resentenced. The assignment judge, not the sentencing judge, has the authority to decide whether a defendant will be sentenced to a term of probation or a term of incarceration with a one-year period of parole ineligibility. If the defendant has been convicted of a first-degree or second-degree Graves Act offense, the assignment judge (or designee) must consider the presumption of incarceration prescribed by N.J.S.A.2C:44-1(d) when he or she chooses between the probationary and one-year mandatory minimum sentences envisioned by section 6.2. View "New Jersey v. Nance" on Justia Law