Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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Sometime after 1:00 a.m. on November 2, 2017, New Jersey State Police officers were deployed to arrest Julian Bell on a four-month-old failure to appear warrant. When the officers arrived at Bell’s home, he was standing outside with defendant Steven Bookman. Bell and Bookman fled into a row house next door to Bell’s residence, and officers pursued Bookman to a second-floor bedroom. After an officer informed Bookman he did not have legal grounds to detain him, Bookman voluntarily told the officer he had a revolver inside his jacket pocket. The officer retrieved the handgun and arrested Bookman. Following his indictment for weapons offenses, Bookman moved to suppress the handgun based on the warrantless entry into the row house. The trial court denied the motion, finding officers were permitted to enter the residence without a warrant under the hot pursuit doctrine. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined that under the totality of the circumstances reviewed here, the State Police detectives who entered the neighboring residence without a warrant did not have grounds to invoke the hot pursuit doctrine. The warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. Although the Court was “disturbed” by the manner of execution of this warrant, it declined to adopt a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to the execution of all Automated Traffic System arrest warrants. View "New Jersey v. Bookman" on Justia Law

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Defendant A.L.A. was the legal guardian of her four grandchildren, who ranged in age from three to seventeen years old. In August 2016, the oldest grandchild reported that defendant physically abused them. After an investigation, the New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency initiated an emergency removal of all four grandchildren. Defendant was tried for multiple counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The parties agreed that the court would instruct the jury on second-degree endangering, and what the parties termed a lesser included disorderly persons offense of simple assault. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the jury could have understood the affirmative defense of reasonable corporal punishment applied to both the child endangerment charge and the simple assault chard, where the reasonable corporal punishment instruction was provided only in the instructions for the child endangerment charge. The Supreme Court determined after review that the jury could not have understood the language in the instruction applied to both charges. Therefore, the Supreme Court held the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury, in the context of the simple assault charge, that reasonable corporal punishment was not prohibited. Because that error in instructions could have led the jury to an unjust result, the conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. A.L.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Crystal Point Condominium Association, Inc. obtained default judgments against two entities for construction defect claims. Kinsale Insurance Company was alleged to have insured those entities, under the Direct Action Statute, N.J.S.A. 17:28-2. The relevant policies both contained an arbitration agreement providing in part that “[a]ll disputes over coverage or any rights afforded under this Policy . . . shall be submitted to binding Arbitration.” Crystal Point filed a declaratory judgment action against Kinsale, alleging that it was entitled to recover the amounts owed by the entities under the insurance policies issued by Kinsale. Kinsale asserted that Crystal Point’s claims were subject to binding arbitration in accordance with the insurance policies. Kinsale argued that the Direct Action Statute did not apply because Crystal Point had not demonstrated that neither entity was insolvent or bankrupt. In the alternative, Kinsale contended that even if the statute were to apply, it would not preclude enforcement of the arbitration provisions in the policies. The trial court granted Kinsale’s motion to compel arbitration, viewing the Direct Action Statute to be inapplicable because there was no evidence in the record that either insured was insolvent or bankrupt. An appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment, finding the evidence that the writs of execution were unsatisfied met the Direct Action Statute’s requirement that the claimant present proof of the insured’s insolvency or bankruptcy and determining that the Direct Action Statute authorized Crystal Point’s claims against Kinsale. The appellate court concluded the arbitration clause in Kinsale’s insurance policies did not warrant the arbitration of Crystal Point’s claims, so it reinstated the complaint and remanded for further proceedings. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined Crystal Point could assert direct claims against Kinsale pursuant to the Direct Action Statute in the setting of this case. Based on the plain language of N.J.S.A. 17:28-2, however, Crystal Point’s claims against Kinsale were derivative claims, and were thus subject to the terms of the insurance policies at issue, including the provision in each policy mandating binding arbitration of disputes between Kinsale and its insureds. Crystal Point’s claims against Kinsale were therefore subject to arbitration. View "Crystal Point Condominium Association, Inc. v. Kinsale Insurance Company " on Justia Law

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In November 2017, Michele Yamakaitis, the nominee of the Democratic Party, was re-elected to a three-year term as the councilmember representing the 8th Ward to the City of Linden Municipal Council (City Council). One year later, Yamakaitis was elected council president, and she resigned as councilmember to assume her new role. On the day of her resignation, the Linden city clerk forwarded a letter to Nicholas Scutari, Chairman of the Linden Democratic Committee, alerting him to the process for filling the 8th Ward vacancy. Chairman Scutari advised the city clerk that the Democratic Committee had met and selected three candidates, including Paul Coates, Jr., to fill the vacant seat. The City Council rejected all three candidates submitted by the Linden Democratic Committee and adopted a Resolution to leave the 8th Ward seat vacant until the next general election, a position the mayor supported. The Democratic Committee voted and swore in Coates to serve as the councilmember representing the 8th Ward, citing N.J.S.A. 40A:16-11 as the authority for that action. The City Council then exercised “[its] right under [N.J.S.A. 40A:16-5(b)] to maintain a vacancy in the 8th Ward,” and declined to recognize Coates as councilmember. In February 2019, Coates and the Democratic Committee filed suit alleging that defendants -- the City and City Council -- had violated the Municipal Vacancy Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:16-1 to -23, by refusing to seat Coates as councilmember. The Chancery Court agreed and voided the Resolution to keep the seat vacant and directed that Coates be seated as the 8th Ward councilmember. Defendants appealed, challenging the court’s findings under both the Vacancy Law, and Coates and the Democratic Committee cross-appealed to uphold the Chancery Court's decision. The Appellate Division reversed the Chancery Division’s orders, determining that the City Council had the authority under N.J.S.A. 40A:16-5 to decline to fill the vacancy. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that in amending in 1990 Sections 11 and 13 of the Municipal Vacancy Law, the Legislature removed the governing body’s discretion to keep vacant a seat previously occupied by a nominee of a political party. "Section 11 mandates that the governing body choose one of the municipal committee’s three nominees." View "Linden Democratic Committee v. City of Linden " on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on whether reasonable and articulable suspicion existed when a police officer conducted an investigatory stop of defendant Nazier Goldsmith on a walkway adjacent to a vacant house. Two police officers were on patrol in Camden in what they believed to be a “high- crime area” known for shootings and drug dealing. Based on his training, 20 years of experience, and his belief that the vacant house was used for the sale of drugs and weapons, Officer Joseph Goonan found it suspicious that defendant was on the walkway next to the vacant house and believed defendant was engaged in drug dealing activity. So the officers approached defendant, blocked his path at the end of the walkway, and began questioning him, asking for his name and for an explanation of his presence on that walkway. Defendant was ultimately charged with weapons and drug offenses. Defendant moved to suppress the gun and drugs, arguing that both the stop and frisk were unlawful because they were not based on reasonable suspicion. The trial court granted the motion, finding the stop lawful but the frisk unlawful. Because the trial court held the frisk to be unlawful, all the seized evidence (the gun, ammunition, drugs, and money) was suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that based on the totality of the circumstances -- including defendant’s presence in a high-crime area and his behavior and body language -- the officer’s frisk of defendant was objectively reasonable. The Supreme Court found that the information the officers possessed at the time of the stop did not amount to specific and particularized suspicion that defendant was engaged in criminal activity. Therefore, the officers did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate an investigatory detention of defendant. The Court reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment and reinstated the trial court’s suppression order. View "New Jersey v. Goldsmith" on Justia Law

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On January 3, 2016, police found James Dewyer without a pulse in his silver Dodge on the side of a Mansfield, New Jersey road. That morning, Dewyer had picked up defendant Quinnizel Clark at a motel in Mansfield, and the men drove to a casino. Cameras in front of the motel showed defendant and Dewyer return to the motel and then depart in Dewyer’s car in the afternoon. Surveillance video showed defendant later return to the motel alone and then leave in different clothes. Ten days later, Detective Wayne Raynor and another officer interviewed defendant about Dewyer’s death. Defendant was read his Miranda rights and waived those rights. After approximately 40 minutes, Detective Raynor began to confront defendant with his belief that defendant murdered Dewyer and pressed defendant about his alibi. Defendant responded, “charge me, call my attorney Mr. Keisler over here, charge me and let’s go.” The interrogation continued and Detective Raynor expressed that if he were in defendant’s shoes, he would tell the officers who he was with so that he was “not on the hook for [the murder].” Detective Raynor suggested that defendant did not want to tell them who he had been with during the time of the murder because he was lying. Defendant said, “[i]f it’s game over, charge me, go get my attorney, charge me, and let’s go to court.” The interrogation ended when defendant requested his attorney a third time. Defendant was charged with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. In this appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether it was harmful error to allow the jury to hear the portion of defendant's statement to police after he invoked his right to counsel but the interrogation continued. Once defendant invoked his right to counsel, the interrogation should have stopped. The Court held that allowing the entire exchange to be played for the jury was harmful error. In addition, the error was compounded when the prosecutor commented on that portion of the statement that should have never been before the jury in the first place. The Appellate Division vacated defendant’s conviction and remanded the matter for further proceedings based on cumulative error. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded for a new trial. View "New Jersey v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, at approximately 10:20 p.m., Trenton detectives stopped defendant David Smith’s motor vehicle for a purported tinted windows violation after the detectives observed dark tinting on defendant’s rear windshield. Despite the rear windshield’s tint, detectives were able to see that defendant was alone in the car and was making a furtive “shoving” motion, raising suspicions that he was trying to conceal a weapon. When the detectives searched the vehicle, they found a firearm. The detectives cited defendant for a tinted windows violation and charged him with various weapons offenses. In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a purported violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 based on tinted windows justified an investigatory stop of a motor vehicle. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found the stop at issue here was not supported by a reasonable and articulable suspicion of a motor vehicle violation. "Consistent with the plain language of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74, reasonable and articulable suspicion of a tinted windows violation arises only when a vehicle’s front windshield or front side windows are so darkly tinted that police cannot clearly see people or articles within the car." View "New Jersey v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This appeal posed a narrow question for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review: whether a particular defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial was violated. Defendant Marcus Mackroy-Davis was arrested on November 11, 2019 in connection with a drive-by shooting in which one person was killed. A complaint against Mackroy-Davis charged him with conspiracy to commit murder, and the State moved to detain him pending trial. The court entered an order of detention on December 23, 2019. On February 13, 2020, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Mackroy-Davis with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and obstruction. Defendant maintained his innocence and stated he intended to go to trial. Consistent with guidance from public health officials, the Judiciary for more than a year was unable to summon jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, and the parties for in-person jury trials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the Supreme Court entered fourteen omnibus orders that tolled the clock for the start of criminal trials for a total of 461 days. The New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) replaced New Jersey’s prior system of pretrial release with a risk-based system that, for the first time, allowed judges to detain high-risk defendants pretrial. In October 2021, the State obtained a superseding indictment that added three new charges against Mackroy-Davis stemming from information the State learned from a codefendant in May 2020. The parties returned to court to arraign Mackroy-Davis on the superseding indictment on November 15, 2021. Over defendant’s objection, the court ordered excludable time “due to extenuating circumstances.” The following day, the court entered two orders for excludable time, one for 59 days and a second for 159 days. The court also set a trial date of April 22, 2022, at which time, the State announced it was ready to proceed. The Supreme Court determined that because the prosecution announced it was ready to proceed to trial at the two-year mark, defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial was not violated. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court and remanded the case for trial. View "New Jersey v. Mackroy-Davis" on Justia Law

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On the morning of February 24, 2014, defendant Abayuba Rivas went to the Police Department and reported that his wife Karla Villagra Garzon was missing. Over the next several days, Rivas gave statements to the police to assist in the missing-persons investigation. Rivas stated that he had left his two-year-old daughter home alone while he drove around looking for Karla, who, he thought, may have had a liaison with someone. Rivas was ultimately arrested and incarcerated for child endangerment and providing false information to the police. After a suicide attempt while held in jail, Rivas was taken to a local hospital. After reading Rivas his Miranda rights, the detectives questioned him, and Rivas soon departed from his earlier story. The next afternoon, on March 18, detectives returned to the hospital and began a nearly six-hour question-and-answer session. The detectives had Rivas read aloud each of his Miranda rights and then asked him if he understood those rights. He answered in the affirmative but repeatedly queried the detectives about his right to an attorney. During the continued interrogation, Rivas confessed to killing Karla. On March 19, Rivas was discharged from the hospital and transported to the police station, where he gave a videotaped statement. Rivas was read his Miranda rights and informed that his family was prepared to retain an attorney to represent him. Despite that information, Rivas waived his rights and indicated his willingness to speak with the detectives. The trial court ultimately found that Rivas’s statements about his desire to secure counsel were “objectively unclear and ambiguous,” and therefore the detectives had the duty either to clarify the ambiguity or cease questioning. The trial court suppressed the March 18 statement but found the March 19 statements admissible. The New Jersey Supreme Court suppressed the March 19 statements too, finding Rivas never freely initiated further conversations with the detectives, further questioning of defendant was barred. “That Rivas waived his Miranda rights on March 19 -- a day later -- does not alter the equation. A violation under Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), is not subject to an attenuation analysis. Therefore, Rivas’s March 19 statements must be suppressed.” View "New Jersey v. Rivas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ashley Bailey and Edwin Ingram married in 2011 and remained married until Ingram’s death in 2016. They had two children. In April 2014, the New Jersey State Police commenced an investigation of an alleged drug distribution network operating in Camden. The investigators identified Ingram and his brother, his half-brother, and three other men as targets of the investigation. Investigators wiretapped phones associated with defendant, her husband, and other targets of the investigation. Police arrested targets of the investigation and defendant in October 2014. Defendant gave two statements in the immediate aftermath of her arrest, admitting she had accessed the LEAA system to review police reports on Ingram and his associates, but denied that her actions were intended to benefit Ingram or anyone else. Defendant claimed that she made numerous phone calls to her husband’s associates in an attempt to locate him and denied that the abrupt decrease in the number of calls was related to the wiretaps. Shortly before trial, defendant moved to exclude the text messages that she exchanged with Ingram on the ground that they were protected by the marital communications privilege. Defendant argued that because the Legislature had not yet amended N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-22 to adopt the crime-fraud exception to the marital communications privilege when she and Ingram exchanged the text messages, the trial court should not apply that exception. The trial court admitted the text messages into evidence, and the State read them into the record. The jury acquitted defendant of conspiracy but convicted her of both counts of official misconduct. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the crime-fraud exception could not be properly applied to marital communications that preceded the Legislature’s amendment of N.J.R.E. 509. The Court found no evidence that the Legislature intended that amendment to retroactively apply to otherwise privileged marital communications that occurred prior to that amendment. The trial court’s admission of the text messages therefore constituted error. However, that error was harmless given the extensive evidence presented by the State in support of defendant’s official misconduct convictions. View "New Jersey v. Bailey" on Justia Law