Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The police spotted defendant Leo Pinkston in a car that matched the general description of a vehicle used in a shooting. The officers “activated their lights and sirens.” Defendant allegedly “disregarded” the lights and sirens and drove off. Ultimately, defendant struck another car, and both vehicles collided with a light pole and caught on fire. Defendant was charged with second-degree eluding and second-degree aggravated assault while eluding. Pretrial Services recommended against defendant’s release, and the State moved to detain defendant. Defense counsel asked for an adjournment to obtain additional discovery and subpoena police officers to testify at the hearing. The trial court denied defendant’s request. After considering the complaint, affidavit of probable cause, Public Safety Assessment, Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report, and the arguments of counsel, the court concluded that: (1) probable cause existed; and (2) clear and convincing evidence established that defendant should be detained. The Appellate Division affirmed the finding of probable cause and order of detention. Shortly before this appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court was argued, defendant pled guilty, and the State moved to dismiss as moot. The Supreme Court determined hat defendants have a qualified right to call adverse witnesses at detention hearings. However, Pinkston pled guilty; the Supreme Court did not review the trial court's decision to detain him pretrial. This appeal was dismissed as moot. View "New Jersey v. Pinkston" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this matter centered on the admissibility of evidence procured from a home after police officers’ warrantless entry. A man was attacked at a bus stop in Willingboro and his cell phone was stolen. He and a police officer tracked the phone’s location to a nearby house using a phone tracking application. Several officers arrived at the house, and one spotted the stolen cell phone’s case through a window. When no one responded to their knocks on the door, the officers entered the house through an unlocked window. Once inside, they performed a protective sweep to determine whether the suspect was inside, and they found defendant, J.A., then seventeen years of age, under the covers of a bed. Shortly thereafter, defendant’s mother and brother arrived home. After the officers explained their investigation, defendant’s mother consented to a search of the house, and defendant’s brother voluntarily retrieved the stolen phone. Defendant was later charged with second-degree robbery for theft of the phone. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers’ entry into his home was unconstitutional because the officers entered without a warrant and there were no circumstances that would justify an exception to the warrant requirement. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, finding that although the officers’ search procedure may have been imprudent, it was ultimately defendant’s brother - without any coercion or duress from law enforcement - who retrieved the cell phone. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate panel’s determination that the officers’ warrantless entry was justified by the claimed exigency faced by the officers. However, the Court agreed defendant’s brother’s actions did not constitute state action and were sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful police conduct. Because we find that the brother’s independent actions operated to preclude application of the exclusionary rule to the evidence, the Court did not reach the question of defendant’s mother’s consent to search. Accordingly, the Court modified and affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "New Jersey in the Interest of J.A." on Justia Law

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As a result of their sex-offense convictions, all four defendants were required to serve a special sentence of community supervision for life ("CSL") after completion of their prison terms. The commission of their offenses, the judgments of their convictions, and the commencement of their sentences all preceded passage of the 2014 Amendment to the Violent Predator Incapacitation Act. Before the 2014 Amendment, a violation of the terms of CSL was punishable as a fourth-degree crime. The 2014 Amendment increased a CSL violation to a third-degree crime punishable by a presumptive term of imprisonment, and such a violation converted CSL to parole supervision for life (PSL). After enactment of the 2014 Amendment, all four defendants allegedly violated the terms of their CSL. They were indicted for committing third-degree offenses and faced the increased penalties provided by that Amendment. The trial courts presiding over defendants’ cases concluded that the 2014 Amendment’s enhanced penalties, as applied to defendants, violated the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions and dismissed the indictments. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court held the Federal and State Ex Post Facto Clauses barred the retroactive application of the 2014 Amendment to defendants’ CSL violations. The Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division dismissing defendants’ indictments. View "New Jersey v. Hester" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) required disclosure of the names and addresses of successful bidders at a public auction of government property. An auction was held at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute to sell sports memorabilia seized by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. There were thirty-nine successful bidders. Plaintiff William Brennan submitted a request to the Prosecutor’s Office, based on OPRA and the common law, for “[r]ecords of payment received from all winning bidders” and “[c]ontact information for each winning bidder.” The Prosecutor’s Office offered redacted copies of receipts that did not include the buyers’ names or addresses. The Office explained that it had sent the buyers letters to ask if they would consent to disclosure of their personal information. For buyers who consented, the Office represented it would provide unredacted receipts. The trial court directed defendants to release the requested information under OPRA. The Supreme Court determined courts were not required to analyze the "Doe" factors each time a party asserts that a privacy interest exists. "A party must first present a colorable claim that public access to records would invade a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy." Here, defendants could not make that threshold showing. "It is not reasonable to expect that details about a public auction of government property -- including the names and addresses of people who bought the seized property -- will remain private. Without a review of the Doe factors, we find that OPRA calls for disclosure of records relating to the auction." The Court reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Brennan v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) required disclosure of the names and addresses of successful bidders at a public auction of government property. An auction was held at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute to sell sports memorabilia seized by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. There were thirty-nine successful bidders. Plaintiff William Brennan submitted a request to the Prosecutor’s Office, based on OPRA and the common law, for “[r]ecords of payment received from all winning bidders” and “[c]ontact information for each winning bidder.” The Prosecutor’s Office offered redacted copies of receipts that did not include the buyers’ names or addresses. The Office explained that it had sent the buyers letters to ask if they would consent to disclosure of their personal information. For buyers who consented, the Office represented it would provide unredacted receipts. The trial court directed defendants to release the requested information under OPRA. The Supreme Court determined courts were not required to analyze the "Doe" factors each time a party asserts that a privacy interest exists. "A party must first present a colorable claim that public access to records would invade a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy." Here, defendants could not make that threshold showing. "It is not reasonable to expect that details about a public auction of government property -- including the names and addresses of people who bought the seized property -- will remain private. Without a review of the Doe factors, we find that OPRA calls for disclosure of records relating to the auction." The Court reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Brennan v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office" on Justia Law

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During the 2012 mayoral election in the City of Salem, New Jersey, defendant Isaac Young was the executive director of the city’s housing authority. Defendant’s friend and political ally, the incumbent-mayor Robert Davis, was defeated by then-councilman Charles Washington, who was eventually elected mayor. Defendant came into possession of documents sent by the Division of Youth and Family Services to the City’s police chief. The documents advised the chief that the Division had substantiated allegations of child abuse against Washington. The allegations were later deemed to be unsubstantiated. Defendant showed the documents to others in his office and gave copies to a police officer, Sergeant Leon Daniels, so that Daniels could distribute the documents to others for political purposes. Defendant was ultimately charged with permitting or encouraging the release of a confidential child abuse record, a fourth-degree offense; hindering his own apprehension or prosecution by giving a false statement to law enforcement; and fourth-degree false swearing by inconsistent statements. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charge relating to the unlawful release of the confidential documents, arguing that N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10b did not apply to his conduct. The court denied that motion. After a mistrial and retrial, defendant was convicted of the three offenses. An Appellate Division panel affirmed defendant’s convictions for hindering and false swearing. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Jersey v. Young" on Justia Law

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Defendant Asher Adelman established eBossWatch.com, which published an article, “'Bizarre’ and hostile work environment leads to lawsuit.” The article detailed a gender-discrimination, workplace-harassment, and retaliation lawsuit brought against Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc., and its chief executive officer and co-owner, John Wintermute (collectively Wintermute), by a former employee, Kristen Laforgia. More than a year after the article’s publication, Wintermute’s attorney sent a letter to Adelman, contending that the article was false and defamatory, Laforgia’s complaint was baseless, and that Laforgia and Wintermute had settled the lawsuit. In an email response, Adelman defended the article, stating that it was a reporting of Laforgia’s complaint, with a few modifications that, by Adelman’s opinion, made clear the article reported on what was filed in Laforgia’s complaint. Wintermute still filed a defamation action. The trial court found the modified article fell within the ambit of the fair report privilege and dismissed the defamation lawsuit. The Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court, holding that under the single publication rule, a new statute of limitations began to run only “if a modification to an Internet post materially and substantially alters the content and substance of the article.” The panel reasoned that “if a minor modification diminishes the defamatory sting of an article, it should not trigger a new statute of limitations.” The panel therefore dismissed as untimely Wintermute’s defamation lawsuit filed more than one year following publication of the original article. The panel did not decide whether the fair report privilege barred the action. The Court granted Wintermute’s petition for certification. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined genuine issues of disputed fact remained concerning whether Adelman made a material and substantive change to the original article, and the Appellate Division erred in dismissing the defamation action based on the single publication rule. However, the Court found the modified article was entitled to the protection of the fair report privilege. The article was a full, fair, and accurate recitation of a court-filed complaint. The trial court properly dismissed the defamation action, and on that basis the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s judgment. View "Petro-LubricantTesting Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review focused on state action based on, among other grounds, the Religious Aid Clause of Article I, Paragraph 3 of the New Jersey Constitution, specifically its prohibition against the use of public funds “for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.” The challenge arose following the Secretary of Higher Education’s (Secretary) determination to award grant monies to a yeshiva and to a theological seminary as part of a state program to subsidize facility and infrastructure projects for higher education institutions. The Appellate Division determined that prior case law concerning the New Jersey Constitution’s Religious Aid Clause required invalidation of the grants to the yeshiva and theological seminary. The State maintained the proper constitutional analysis in this matter turned on the use to which these higher education institutions would put the monies, not the nature of the institutions themselves. The Supreme Court determined judicial review was premature because factual disputes required resolution before the Secretary could make a properly informed decision on the grant applications. Because an informed administrative decision could not have been made without the benefit of a proper record, the matter was remanded to the Secretary, in order that a contested case proceeding be conducted prior to the ultimate administrative decision of the Secretary concerning the challenged grants. View "American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey v. Hendricks" on Justia Law

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In March 2012, New Jersey State Trooper John Faust pulled over a 2002 Mercury Sable with a damaged taillight on Interstate 295. The driver, Shonsheray Chandler, had changed lanes without signaling. There were passengers in Chandler’s car: her six-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, and defendant Malcolm Hagans, sitting in the front passenger seat. Faust smelled the odor of burnt marijuana in the vehicle. Faust ultimately arrested defendant, handcuffed him, called for back-up, and administered Miranda warnings. Faust also handcuffed Chandler and placed her in the backseat of his police vehicle. Chandler denied knowing defendant had marijuana on him and denied that she had been smoking marijuana in the car. Faust requested Chandler consent to a search of her vehicle. Faust asked whether she would give consent, and Chandler responded “no.” Faust then discussed his next steps: “I know, but at this time . . . we are going to apply for a search warrant, okay, and that is kinda going to prolong the inevitable. I would just like it to be easier.” Chandler replied, “Go ahead.” Faust then inquired, “What’s that ma’am?,” to which Chandler repeated “Go ahead.” Faust asked, “Are you sure?” Chandler answered, “Yeah.” Faust countered, “So you’re saying yes?” Chandler responded, “Yes.” The issue that exchange presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether Chandler’s consent was valid after she initially denied the officer’s request to search it. The Supreme Court found that because the trial court’s determination that the driver ultimately knowingly and voluntarily gave consent to search is supported by sufficient credible evidence, the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search. View "New Jersey v. Hagans" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether defendant Todd Dorn’s right to a grand jury presentment under the New Jersey Constitution was violated when the trial court permitted the State, on the eve of trial, to increase the charge in count two of defendant’s indictment from a third-degree to a second-degree drug offense. The Court also considered whether it was proper for the trial court to admit into evidence a copy of a map showing that defendant’s home was within 500 feet of public housing, a public park, or public building. The Supreme Court concluded the amendment to count two of defendant’s indictment was a violation of defendant’s right to grand jury presentment under the New Jersey Constitution, and remanded the conviction on count two to the trial court. The Court also found defendant waived his right to object to the map’s authentication. View "New Jersey v. Dor" on Justia Law