Articles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court

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In this appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether a chief municipal court judge whose son became a member of the police department in the same municipality could hear cases involving that police department. The Supreme Court held that, "consistent with the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a municipal court judge whose child becomes a police officer in the same municipality may not hear any cases involving that police department. The judge also may not supervise other judges who hear those cases." View "In the Matter of Advisory Letter No. 7-11 of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities" on Justia Law

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The taxpayer, Bocceli, LLC, is the taxpaying sublessee of a commercial property owned by Penns Grove Associates in the Township of Carney's Point. The Township's tax assessment list incorrectly listed Prime Accounting Department as the owner. In 2007, the Township wrote to Prime Accounting requesting updated income and expense information for purposes of assessing the value of the property. Prime Management's interest in the property transferred to a new lessee, WIH Hotels, Inc. That inquiry eventually reached WIH, which submitted a late response and paid taxes for 2007. WIH entered into a sublease with Bocceli, which became responsible for property tax payments. In 2008, the managing member of Bocceli visited the tax collector's office, made a tax payment, and requested that the tax assessment list be changed to designate "Bocceli, LLC" as the owner and that notices be sent to the property. According to the Township, the clerk advised the managing member that a deed needed to be presented to the assessor's office to change the list. No deed was presented, and Prime Accounting remained on the list. The tax assessor sent the annual request to Prime Accounting. When it was returned undelivered, the Township reviewed its records and discovered that WIH had responded to the prior year's request. It sent another request to WIH, which did not forward it to Bocceli. Later that year, the tax collector advised the tax assessor of the address that the managing member had provided, but it continued to list Prime Accounting as the owner. In early 2009, the assessor notified Bocceli of the annual tax assessment. Thus, at that time, the assessor was aware of Bocceli's responsibility to pay property taxes and used Bocceli's mailing address to serve the notice of assessment that prompted this tax appeal. The tax assessment list continued to designate Prime Accounting as the entity responsible to pay the taxes. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether a tax appeal complaint timely filed, but one which did not name the aggrieved taxpayer as the plaintiff, should have been dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court concluded that Bocceli's misdesignation of the plaintiff did not deprive the tax court of subject matter jurisdiction. "The defect in the complaint did not prejudice the Township and [could] be corrected by an amended complaint that relate[d] back to the filing of the original complaint." View "PrimeAccounting Department v. Township of Carney's Point" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Valeria Headen worked on a full-time ten-month basis as a food service worker for defendant Jersey City Board of Education (Board). She filed a complaint against the Board in 2009 alleging that because the District is governed by the provisions of the Civil Service Act (Act), she and potential class members were entitled to vacation leave under its provisions. Those provisions grant vacation leave to full-time "political subdivision employees" based on years of service, and they direct that a proportionate amount of leave be provided for part-time employees. Plaintiff's terms and conditions of employment were governed by a collectively negotiated agreement (CNA). Under the CNA, Headen and her fellow ten-month employee class members were classified as salaried employees. After discovery was completed, Headen filed a motion for partial summary judgment, and the Board filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the Board's motion and denied Headen's motion. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that provisions of the Act (N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3) did not apply to full-time ten-month school district employees. It reasoned that the term "political subdivision" in the vacation leave provision did not include school districts, and it concluded that laws addressing vacation leave in Title 18, suggested that the Legislature did not intend for Title 11A, Chapter 6 to apply to school district employees. Upon review on appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act's paid vacation leave provisions applied to career service, non-teaching staff employees of school districts that have opted to be part of the civil service system, including ten-month employees such as plaintiff Valeria Headen. "Because the Act and its implementing regulations establish a floor for the amount of leave to be provided to such employees and a collectively negotiated agreement provided Headen with more than the minimum paid vacation leave to which she was entitled under the Act, her claims were properly dismissed." View "Headen v. Jersey City Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Bonita Pitt visited inmate defendant Ralph Sowell in a prison area monitored by security cameras. Sergeant Salvatore D'Amico of the Department of Corrections (DOC) observed Pitt and defendant lean forward. Defendant appeared to kiss Pitt on the cheek. She lifted her shirt slightly, reached into her left front pocket, took out an item, and placed it in defendant's hand. D'Amico then saw defendant lean back and place the item into a bag of potato chips. D'Amico immediately radioed an officer to seize defendant and the bag of chips. When the officer approached defendant, D'Amico, still monitoring the security cameras, saw defendant place the bag of chips under the seat next to him, and an officer recover the bag of chips. D'Amico emptied the contents of the bag of chips, which contained a balloon with thirty envelopes of heroin inside it. After waiving his Miranda rights, defendant admitted to a DOC investigator that he received drugs during the visit. Defendant was charged with drug offenses. At trial, D'Amico testified as to his observations, and the State played the videotape recording of the entire incident. A DOC investigator was accepted as the State's expert in "narcotics investigation." During testimony, the expert opined that "an exchange of narcotics took place." The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court centered on whether the State properly elicited expert testimony in response to a hypothetical question that in this case, "an exchange of narcotics took place." Upon review, the Court concluded that the expert's opinion was improper because it related to a straightforward factual allegation that was not beyond the understanding of an average juror and because the expert referred to facts not contained in the hypothetical. The Court affirmed defendant's conviction however, concluding that under the plain error standard, there was overwhelming evidence in the record of his quilt. View "New Jersey v. Sowell" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the investigatory stop of defendant Don C. Shaw was constitutional, and if not, whether discovery of an outstanding parole warrant for his arrest was an intervening circumstance that broke the causal chain between the unlawful detention and a subsequent search. In 2011, a police task force arrived at a multi-unit apartment building to execute an arrest warrant on a named fugitive just as two people, Shaw and Niam Gardner, exited from the common entrance of the building. Detective Brown saw the two men part ways, but he did not observe any criminal activity. The officers stopped Shaw and Gardner to determine whether either one was the fugitive identified in the arrest warrant. The officers had the name and description of the fugitive, but the only features that Detective Brown recalled that the fugitive and Shaw shared in common were that both were black men. The officers held Shaw because he refused to give his name, and Brown was prepared to take Shaw to the State Police barracks to run his fingerprints to determine if he was the fugitive they were seeking. Police ultimately determined that Shaw was not the target of the fugitive arrest warrant, but that he was on their list of named individuals wanted for parole violations. Shaw was arrested, and a search revealed he was carrying heroin. Shaw was then charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance and related offenses. Shaw moved to suppress evidence of the drugs. The trial court found that Shaw was the subject of an unreasonable stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but declined to suppress the drugs, concluding that the parole warrant dissipated the taint from the illegal detention because the warrant stood as an independent basis for arresting and searching Shaw. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the police did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the investigatory detention, which was based on nothing more than a non-particularized racial description of the person sought. The parole warrant was not an intervening circumstance that sufficiently purged the taint from the unlawful detention. View "New Jersey v. Shaw" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, Defendant Stanley Smith (a/k/a Jerry Johnson) contended that the police improperly obtained certain telephone toll records and that evidence developed from those records should have been excluded at his trial. Defendant further contended that certain remarks by the prosecutor in summation were so improper, he was entitled to a new trial. Shortly before 5:30 p.m. on December 31, 2001, Robert Priester was shot to death while sitting in his automobile in the parking lot of the M & M Deli in Ewing, New Jersey. Defendant was charged with murdering Priester, and a jury found him guilty. The trial court sentenced him to serve thirty years in prison, subject to the parole ineligibility provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. The Appellate Division affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion. Upon review, the Supreme Court rejected Defendant's arguments on appeal and affirmed. View "New Jersey v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Defendant Johnnie Parker was seventeen years old when he was questioned by police about the stabbing death of Demetreas Fletcher. Parker gave a statement to officers admitting that he and a friend, also a juvenile, had killed Fletcher, but he claimed that he was pressured to commit the crime by a drug dealer known as "Polo Mike," for whom Parker worked. Parker expressed to the officers his belief that he would have been killed if he had not complied with Polo Mike’s orders. The other individual involved in the slaying corroborated Parker’s statement that Polo Mike had ordered Fletcher’s death and that they feared for their lives if they did not comply. The Family Part waived jurisdiction and both young men were indicted for murder and other crimes. Parker eventually entered a negotiated plea of guilty to an amended charge of aggravated manslaughter, and the State agreed to recommend a sentence of twenty-five years in prison. When Parker appeared before the trial court to plead guilty, his attorney did not mention Parker’s belief that he would be killed if he did not comply with Polo Mike’s directions. At the sentencing hearing, Parker’s attorney made no argument on his behalf and merely expressed sympathy for the victim’s family and asked the judge to sentence Parker in accordance with the negotiated plea. Parker did not file a direct appeal from his conviction or sentence. Parker filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief in 2007, and counsel was assigned to represent him. In the petition, the attorney argued that the performance of Parker’s trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to investigate the surrounding facts, did not argue that Parker had acted under duress, and did not assert at sentencing that Parker should receive a lesser period of incarceration. The judge reviewed the petition and supporting documents and denied post-conviction relief. The Appellate Division affirmed. After considering the arguments in support of post-conviction relief, and applying the strong presumption in favor of oral argument for initial post-conviction relief petitions, the Supreme Court concluded that Parker was entitled to oral argument and remanded the case back to the trial court. View "New Jersey v. Parker" on Justia Law

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In an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court, the issue on appeal involved the precise standard that must be met to compel genetic testing to prove parentage when there is a presumed father. In April 2006, Richard and Diane's marriage apparently was going through a rough period. The two eventually filed for divorce. Richard discovered on Diane’s phone "some inappropriate text messages" from her then "current boyfriend." Richard confronted Diane believing that the messages were about "Mark," the son Richard presumed was his. The next day, Diane began "crying out loud" and stated, "I am sorry for what I did to you 20 years ago." By November 2006, when Diane moved out of the marital home, Richard began to notice that Mark did not look like him. At some later point, Diane admitted to Richard that she had sexual relations with "Donald" in the latter part of the summer of 1986. Mark was born in 1987. With his suspicions raised about Mark's paternity, Richard purchased a home DNA testing kit. At the time, Mark was battling alcohol and drug abuse problems. Richard made it clear to Mark that he had to remain clean while living under his roof, and under that guise had Mark provide a DNA sample, which he then submitted to a laboratory for paternity testing. In January 2007, Richard received the results, which revealed that Mark was not his biological son. Coinciding with Richard's May 2007 motion to compel genetic testing as part of his parentage action against Donald, Richard and Mark's relationship began to deteriorate. By April 2009, Richard and Mark had no relationship at all. At the same time, Mark had a good relationship with Donald – his "uncle" and putative biological father. The divorce and paternity actions also strained Richard's relationship with his daughter with Diane. All in all, a once intact family unit was totally fractured. With this family history as a backdrop, Richard, Diane, and Mark each gave testimony at a hearing to determine whether genetic testing should be ordered. The family court rejected Richard's request for the testing. The trial court found Richard failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the testing was in the best interests of Mark, and disagreed that Richard had a right to know Mark's paternity. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Donald's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Richard's third-party paternity action. Richard then appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court nor the Appellate Division referenced the applicable statutory provision that addressed the circumstances that warrant an order of genetic testing when parentage is in doubt. "Event under the most generous view of the facts from Mark or Diane's perspective, there is an absence of good cause to deny genetic testing." View "D.W.v. R.W." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned the nature of the nexus that must be proven by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under the Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act or Act) against Sue’s Clothes Hanger (Sue’s), the only direct defendant that remained in the case, for costs expended in the investigation and remediation of contaminated groundwater that tainted private wells in Bound Brook. The trial court dismissed the Spill Act claim, concluding that even if the building where Sue’s was located is a contamination source, the evidence was insufficient to establish that Sue’s discharged PCE that contaminated the groundwater. The court found: the groundwater and soil contamination preceded Sue’s dry cleaning operation; there was no evidence that the drip from Sue’s continued or the pavement below showed signs of contamination; the DEP took no other action regarding the drip, suggesting it was not considered to be significant; there is no evidence that PCE in the groundwater or soil came from Sue’s rather than from others who had conducted dry cleaning operations in the building; and because there are alternative sources of contamination from the building and Zaccardi’s, the DEP had not established by a preponderance of the evidence that Sue’s contributed to the groundwater contamination. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division in holding that in order to obtain damages under the Spill Act, the DEP must demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, a reasonable connection between the discharge, the discharger, and the contamination at the damaged site. The proofs failed to establish a sufficient nexus between the groundwater contamination and Sue’s discharge during its operation. View "New Jersey Dep't of Envtl. Prot. v. Dimant" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether a thirteen-year-old's confession provided outside of the presence of his father should have been suppressed. After it was reported that thirteen-year-old A.W. sexually touched his five-year-old cousin K.P, A.W.'s father voluntarily brought him to the county child advocacy center for an interview. A.W. is bilingual, but because his father speaks very little English, the interview was conducted initially entirely in Spanish. A detective advised A.W. and his father of A.W.'s rights using a pre-printed juvenile rights form, written in Spanish. A.W. initially denied touching K.P. and blamed their other cousin J. At A.W.'s request, the detective permitted him to state what J. had said about touching K.P. in English, but then resumed the questioning in Spanish. Approximately twenty minutes into the interview, A.W. asked in English, "could I tell everything in private, like without my dad here, outside, it will be easier." The detective explained that to his father in Spanish. Although A.W.'s father immediately stood up to leave, the detective advised A.W.'s father that he would need to waive his right to be present during the interview before leaving and that he could return to the interview room at any time. A.W.'s father then signed the required parental waiver form without objection and left the interview room. Thereafter, A.W. continued to deny wrongdoing before eventually admitting that he had touched K.P. sexually. A.W. was charged as a juvenile with two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Considering the totality of the circumstances, A.W.'s father willingly and voluntarily left the interview room, the questioning comported with the highest standards of fundamental fairness and due process, and the confession was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily; the Supreme Court concluded A.W.'s confession was admissible. View "In the Interest of A.W." on Justia Law