New Jersey v. Weaver

In late June 2004, approximately fifty young men and women gathered at the apartment of a recent high school graduate to celebrate her graduation. Later in the evening, a verbal argument erupted on the street in front of the apartment between two young men -- defendant Jahnell Weaver and Edward Williams. As the verbal altercation continued, someone drew a gun and fired five shots. Williams died from three gunshot wounds. His friend, Amyr Hill, was gravely wounded by two gunshots but survived. Weaver and his friend fled from the scene. Based on statements obtained from Hill and several eyewitnesses, police determined that the shots were fired by either Weaver or Khalil Bryant. Both were subsequently charged with the murder of Williams, the attempted murder of Hill, and various weapons charges. An issue at trial was the identity of the shooter. Hill initially identified Bryant as the shooter but later modified his identification, stating that he was not sure whether Weaver or Bryant fired the shots. An eyewitness provided similar testimony. Another eyewitness provided a description of the shooting that suggested Bryant was the shooter. Two other eyewitnesses stated unequivocally that Weaver shot both young men. Weaver contended that Bryant, shot the victims. In support of this defense, Weaver sought to introduce evidence of Bryant’s involvement in a later shooting in which he used the murder weapon. Weaver also moved for a separate trial. The trial court denied Weaver’s defensive use of the subsequent other-crimes evidence and denied the severance motion. The jury found defendant guilty of all counts and found Bryant guilty of third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and two counts of third-degree endangering an injured victim. On appeal, defendant argued that his right to confrontation was violated because the trial court admitted Bryant’s statements identifying defendant as the shooter, even though Bryant did not testify. Defendant also contended that the trial court should have permitted him to introduce the other-crimes evidence, namely that Bryant used the murder weapon in connection with the another shooting incident. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded: "The confluence of defendant’s third-party defense strategy, the erroneous denial of his defensive use of co-defendant’s subsequent acts with the murder weapon, the denial of his motion to sever the trial, the admission of an inadequately redacted statement, and the erroneous admission of when co-defendant received the murder weapon require a new trial. The cumulative impact of these errors was not harmless." View "New Jersey v. Weaver" on Justia Law