Articles Posted in Criminal 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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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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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

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In New Jersey, juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses were barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society. Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and challenged the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles. After review of the specific facts of this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violated the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. “Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.” The Court determined that in the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provided the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law, and a criminal defendant may petition to be released from registration and notification requirements when a superior court judge is persuaded the defendant has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period. Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). View "New Jersey in the Interest of C.K." on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Supreme Court found that counsel for both sides raised an intriguing question in this case: whether an identification made by a law enforcement officer should be tested by the same standards that apply to a civilian. The State presented strong evidence that defendant Dorian Pressley distributed cocaine. According to the testimony at trial, defendant sold two vials of cocaine directly to an undercover detective. At the end of the face-to-face exchange, defendant gave the detective his phone number and told her to store the number under the first three letters of his name. A second officer observed the transaction. Immediately after the sale, the undercover officer transmitted a description of defendant to a supervisor. The second officer also radioed information about defendant’s movements. About four blocks from where the sale took place, a third officer stopped defendant, who matched the description. The officer realized he knew the suspect and let him go to protect the ongoing undercover operation. Back at headquarters, the third officer printed a photo of defendant. The undercover detective also returned to headquarters. Within one hour of the transaction, she viewed the single photo of defendant and said she was certain that the individual in the picture had sold her the two vials. Defendant was arrested and convicted after trial of third-degree possession of heroin, third-degree distribution of cocaine, and third-degree distribution of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court should have held a pretrial hearing to evaluate the reliability of the identification. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that it could not determine whether part or all of the protections outlined in New Jersey v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208 (2011) should apply to identifications made by law enforcement officers: “Even if the trial judge in this case had held a pretrial hearing, though, it is difficult to imagine that the identification would have been suppressed. Although showups are inherently suggestive, ‘the risk of misidentification is not heightened if a showup is conducted’ within two hours of an event. Here, the identification took place within an hour. In addition, the trial judge gave the jury a full instruction on identification evidence, consistent with Henderson and the model jury charge.” The Court affirmed the Appellate Division and upheld defendant’s convictions. View "New Jersey v. Pressley" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Defendant Donnell Jones and a female accomplice committed an armed robbery against a woman and her young daughter in a New Brunswick park. Defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree armed robbery and second-degree certain persons not to have weapons. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss other charges. The State further agreed to recommend a sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment on the armed-robbery charge, subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier and five years’ parole supervision. That sentence would run concurrently with a seven-year sentence, subject to five years of parole ineligibility, on the certain-persons charge. At sentencing, the court asked defendant whether he wanted to say anything. Defendant stated, “First of all, I am guilty . . . of my crime, a hundred percent guilty. Am I sorry for what I did? No. I’m not.” The court asked defendant, “You’re not sorry?” and a short exchange followed, during which defendant said that the victim “was not the target.” Defendant stated, “Other than that, then that’s it.” The prosecutor finished her summation; defendant did not speak again nor did he or his counsel ask to speak again. The court found three aggravating factors and no mitigating factors. Although defendant was extended-term eligible, the sentences imposed by the court adhered precisely to defendant’s plea bargain. Defendant did not file a direct appeal. He filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant sought to have his case remanded for resentencing because the sentencing court:(1) failed to provide a statement of reasons for aggravating factor nine; (2) wrongly considered defendant’s arrest history; and (3) violated his right to allocute and to present mitigating information. Defendant petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to review his claim that his right to allocute and present mitigating information was violated. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed his sentence. View "New Jersey v. Jones" on Justia Law

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On December 5, 2010, Thomas Carbin was stabbed to death. The Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office began interviewing individuals to obtain information about Carbin and learned that defendant Lori Hummel was in Carbin’s “circle of acquaintances.” Investigator Krohn discovered that defendant had two outstanding traffic bench warrants. Investigator Krohn advised defendant that he was going to bring her to the police station for the traffic warrants but assured her that she would be released on her own recognizance. Detectives began asking defendant substantive questions without advising her of her Miranda rights. Defendant resisted answering any more questions, stating she thought she wanted to get a lawyer. Detectives thereafter notified defendant she had an outstanding warrant. Defendant asked several times whether she could make a phone call to her lawyer. One detective took defendant’s purse from the table, and defendant stated that she did not like that he had her pocketbook. Defendant was then notified she was “in custody,” at that point, detectives began taking everything out of defendant’s purse and placing each item on the table in the interrogation room. Police arrested defendant three days later; a Grand Jury ultimately returned an indictment, charging defendant with first-degree murder; first-degree felony murder; first-degree robbery; third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose; and fourth-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Later, third-degree conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) was added to defendant’s list of charges. Defendant waived her right to an indictment in exchange for the State amending her first-degree murder charge to first-degree aggravated manslaughter. The indictment and accusation were then consolidated for disposition. Defendant moved to suppress her statements to police and the physical evidence obtained during her 2010 interrogation. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court found no valid inventory search, affirming the Appellate Division’s determination that the evidence seized during the search should have been suppressed. The Court remanded to permit defendant to withdraw her guilty plea and continue at the trial court level or, in the alternative, to proceed before a PCR court on other issues she has preserved. View "New Jersey v. Hummel" on Justia Law