New Jersey v. Williams

A jury convicted defendant Kelvin Williams of first-degree robbery based on evidence that he entered a bank, told a teller he possessed a bomb, and demanded money. Defendant made no gesture as he made his threat, and a bomb was not displayed. Defendant was dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and pants, and his hands were not visible. It was undisputed that defendant was not armed with a bomb. The issue in this appeal was whether defendant’s demand of money from the bank employee while telling her he was armed with a bomb, in the absence of any gesture suggesting the truth of his remark, constituted sufficient evidence of an immediate threat to use a deadly weapon. The Appellate Division concluded that the failure of defendant to make some gesture suggesting he was armed with a bomb did not allow a finding that defendant threatened the immediate use of a deadly weapon. The appellate panel therefore overturned the jury verdict. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellate Division: "Well-documented events since 2001 have made the public painfully aware that bombs can be secreted in cunning ways [. . .] and can be exploded by various means, including by timers and remote devices. A defendant who makes a credible threat that he is armed with a bomb may be taken at his word for purposes of first-degree robbery. So long as the victim had an actual and reasonable belief that a defendant was armed with a bomb based on the totality of the circumstances, including the defendant’s words, conduct, and dress, a gesture is not a prerequisite for a finding that defendant threatened the immediate use of a deadly weapon." The Court reversed the Appellate Division, reinstated defendant’s conviction of first-degree robbery, and remanded the case to the Appellate Division for consideration of the remaining issue not addressed in defendant’s appeal. View "New Jersey v. Williams" on Justia Law