Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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Defendant S.B. was a congregant of the Eternal Life Christian Center (ELCC), a registered non-profit and religious institution. Defendant was also subject to Megan’s Law because of two sexual assault convictions in 1991. To comply with the Megan’s Law reporting requirements, defendant notified the ELCC pastors and elders of his convictions. Defendant participated in the church’s No Limits Youth Ministry (NLYM), the stated goal of which is to prepare students to be effective at home, junior high, senior high, and college. Based on defendant’s participation in the NLYM, the grand jury indicted him for third-degree prohibited participation in a youth serving organization, in violation of N.J.S.A.2C:7-23. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the NLYM was not a youth serving organization under Megan’s Law. The trial court granted defendant s motion, reasoning that the statute was vague with respect to how religious institutions fit within the definition of youth serving organization. The issue presented for the New Jersey’s review centered on whether the NLYM was exempt from the definition of a youth serving organization under N.J.S.A.2C:7-22. The Court concluded a plain-language reading of N.J.S.A.2C:7-22 did not exempt a youth ministry associated with a church or other religious organization from the definition of youth serving organization. Therefore, the Court reinstated the indictment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. S.B." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the applicability of qualified immunity to a claim brought under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA), N.J.S.A.10:6-1 to -2, against a police detective named in his individual and official capacity. Plaintiff Denise Brown filed suit claiming her state constitutional rights were violated in 2008 when a State Police officer accompanied her into her apartment, without a warrant and without her consent, in order to secure the premises while awaiting the issuance of a search warrant. Victims claimed two men with handguns forcibly entered a home, stole jewelry and other belongings, and fled in a blue BMW. Plaintiff loaned her blue BMW to her boyfriend, Carlos Thomas. Thomas was ultimately charged in connection with his alleged involvement in the home invasion. A State Police representative notified plaintiff of Thomas’s arrest and that the State Police had her vehicle. They searched plaintiff’s car and found contraband, a gun holster, and other items, including jewelry, linking the car to the home invasion. During the investigation, State Police received a tip that Thomas had given plaintiff a locket reported as stolen during the break-in. As a result, the police determined the investigation should include a search of plaintiff’s home. A detective explained to plaintiff that if she refused consent, he would then proceed to seek a search warrant, securing the premises in the interim by either preventing her from entering the home or allowing her access, accompanied by police, to prevent loss or destruction of evidence. Given the options, plaintiff declined to grant consent and refused to allow the officers to secure the apartment from outside. The parties agreed there was probable cause to believe that plaintiff had evidence in her home and, in fact, a search warrant was obtained later that day. The State moved to dismiss, using qualified immunity as grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined a law enforcement officer, without a warrant and without consent, may not lawfully insist on entering a residence based on an assertion that exigent circumstances require the dwelling to be secured. However, in light of the circumstances of this case, the police did not violate a clearly established right when entering the home to secure it. Qualified immunity applied. View "Brown v. New Jersey" on Justia Law

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In 2017, officers arrested defendant Amed Ingram after an officer observed him in possession of a defaced .45 caliber handgun loaded with eight rounds. The State charged defendant with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, second-degree possession of a firearm by certain persons with a prior conviction, and fourth-degree receipt of a defaced firearm. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint generally tracked the language of the statutes under which defendant was charged and, in the space to explain how law enforcement became aware of the stated facts, the officer wrote, officer observations. The officer also prepared a preliminary law enforcement incident report (PLEIR), which, at the time, was incorporated into the affidavit, rating defendant 6 out of 6 the highest level for risk of both failure to appear and new criminal activity. The PSA also noted defendant s criminal history. The State moved for detention and submitted the following documents: the complaint-warrant, the affidavit of probable cause, the PSA, the PLEIR, and defendant s criminal history. Defense counsel objected and argued that the CJRA and court rules required the State to present a live witness to establish probable cause. The trial court rejected defendant's claims. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and the Appellate Division that neither the statute's plain language nor principles of due process required the State to present testimony from a live witness at every detention hearing. Instead, the State may proceed by proffer to try to satisfy its burden of proof and show that detention is warranted. Trial judges, however, retain discretion to require direct testimony when they are dissatisfied with the State s proffer. View "New Jersey v. Ingram" on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the scope of a municipality's obligation to disclose electronically stored information in accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Plaintiff John Paff filed a request with Galloway Township's records custodian for specific information in emails sent by the Township's Municipal Clerk and Chief of Police over a two-week period. From those emails, Paff sought only information contained within the following fields: sender, recipient, date, and subject. Paff did not request the contents of the emails. The Township contended that only the emails (not specific information embedded within them) were government records subject to disclosure under OPRA. On that basis, the Township denied the records request. The trial court ordered the production of the fields of information sought by Paff because OPRA defined a government record as information stored or maintained electronically by a municipality. A panel of the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that OPRA required only the production of the emails, not information electronically stored within them. The Supreme Court held the Appellate Division's overly constrictive reading of OPRA "cannot be squared with OPRA s objectives or statutory language." The Appellate Division erred in finding that the government record is the email itself and not the easily accessible fields of information that were maintained electronically. View "Paff v. Galloway Township" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined: (1) what the appropriate standard of appellate review of a trial court's factual findings was based solely on the court's viewing of a video-recorded police interrogation; and (2) whether defendant invoked his right to remain silent during the interrogation. In 2011, defendant S.S. was tried before a jury and convicted of first-degree aggravated sexual assault of his six-year-old daughter, and second-degree endangering the welfare of his child. The trial court sentenced defendant to a fifteen-year prison term on the sexual-assault charge, subject to the No Early Release Act, and to a concurrent five-year term on the endangering charge. The Appellate Division reversed those convictions for reasons unrelated to this appeal and ordered a new trial. The Supreme Court denied the State's petition for certification, and defendant's cross-petition. Relying solely on a review of the video-recorded interrogation, the trial court found that defendant asserted his right to silence when he said, "that's all I got to say. That's it." The trial court suppressed all statements made after that utterance because the investigators failed to honor defendant's invocation of his right to remain silent in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). A panel of the Appellate Division engaged in a de novo review of the video-recorded interrogation and reversed, making its own factual findings based on defendant's tone of voice and the flow of the interview, concluding that defendant did not assert his right to remain silent. The Supreme Court found the trial court's factual determination, based solely on its review of the video-recorded interrogation, was supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. Although the Appellate Division and trial court drew different inferences from the record, the Supreme Court concluded that the inferences drawn by the trial court were reasonable and that the trial court's ultimate determination was not clearly mistaken. View "New Jersey v. S.S." on Justia Law

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New Jersey joins the majority of jurisdictions in returning to the “Blockburger same-elements test” as the sole test for determining what constitutes the same offense for purposes of double jeopardy. In the interest of justice, the Court applied both the same-elements test and the now-replaced same-evidence test in this case; going forward, for offenses committed after the issuance of this opinion, the same-elements test will serve as the singular framework for determining whether two charges are the same offense for purposes of double-jeopardy analysis. A grand jury returned an indictment charging defendant Rodney Miles with several offenses. Defendant appeared pro se in municipal court to resolve a disorderly-persons offense. At some point before that proceeding, the original municipal charge was amended to a different disorderly-persons offense: loitering to possess marijuana. Defendant asked the municipal court judge about the charge; the judge responded that defendant was not going to Superior Court for loitering, but rather for an unrelated child support issue. Defendant then pled guilty to loitering to possess marijuana. Thereafter, defendant moved to dismiss the Superior Court indictment on double-jeopardy grounds, arguing that prosecution on the possession charges was barred because he had already pled guilty to an offense that arose from the same conduct. The Superior Court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss, reasoning that prosecution on the indicted charges was not barred because it required proof of an additional element (proximity to a school). Defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute within 1000 feet of a school, but preserved his right to appeal the denial of the motion to dismiss. Despite defendant’s expressed confusion during the municipal court plea hearing, the Superior Court concluded that the school-zone prosecution was not precluded by notions of fundamental fairness. The Appellate Division reversed the Superior Court, barring defendant’s second prosecution as a violation of double jeopardy. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Jersey v. Miles" on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered the newly enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act to address the type and scope of discovery the State must provide when it seeks to detain a defendant prior to trial. Police arrested defendant Habeeb Robinson for killing a victim. According to the affidavit, two eyewitnesses saw the shooting. One identified defendant from a six-person photo array; the other identified a photo of defendant. The Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report (PLEIR) added that a surveillance camera recorded the incident. The pending complaint charged defendant with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. The PSA recommended that defendant not be released. The State moved for pretrial detention. At the hearing, the State relied on the hearsay statements in the affidavit of probable cause (which referred to the two eyewitnesses); the presumption of detention under N.J.S.A.2A:162-19(b)(1) (based on the murder charge); defendant s criminal history and record of court appearances; and the release recommendation in the PSA. The trial court directed the State to disclose the two witness statements, the photos used in the identification process, the surveillance video, and any incident report that the police prepared. The State appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court. The Supreme Court found that Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B), on which the lower courts relied, required disclosure of the reports and the photos but not the video. The Supreme Court took this opportunity to clarify and reframe the Rule to help ensure that it struck the proper balance between two important concerns: a defendant s liberty interest and the State’s ability to seek to detain high-risk defendants before trial. View "New Jersey v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Petitioners-parolees challenged the constitutionality of the practices of the New Jersey State Parole Board in administering polygraph examinations to sex offenders serving either parole supervision for life (PSL) or community supervision for life (CSL) sentences. . Although it recognized the controversy concerning polygraph examination accuracy, the trial court explained that the Parole Board exercised care in incorporating exam results into decision-making and never used the results as the exclusive basis to justify a modification of parole. Further, the trial court found expert testimony indicating that polygraph examinations were a valuable tool in the therapeutic treatment of sex offenders to be particularly compelling. The Appellate Division thereafter upheld the Parole Board’s use of polygraph testing, subject to certain restrictions. The Supreme Court upheld the Parole Board’s use of polygraph testing with the same limitations as the Appellate Division, but added that the Parole Board’s regulations had to be further supplemented to buttress the parolees’ Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. View "J.B. v. New Jersey State Parole Board" on Justia Law

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The primary issue in this appeal involved the warrantless search of an apartment, where the police found drugs and evidence allegedly linking defendant to the apartment. Evidence seized from the apartment was the basis for multiple drug charges filed against defendant. At a suppression motion, the State argued that exigent circumstances and the need for a protective sweep justified the entry into the apartment and the seizure of evidence. The trial court upheld the search, apparently on standing grounds, finding that defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment. A panel of the Appellate Division reversed and held that because defendant had automatic standing to challenge the search based on the possessory drug charges, defendant had no burden to establish that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment. The panel also rejected the State's assertion, raised for the first time on appeal, that the apartment was abandoned. The panel remanded to the trial court to determine whether the search was justified based on the protective-sweep or exigent-circumstances doctrine. The panel also reversed defendant s conviction based on the trial court s failure to give a mere presence charge. The Supreme Court affirmed the panel s determination that defendant had automatic standing to challenge the search of the apartment because he was charged with possessory drug offenses and because the State failed to show that the apartment was abandoned or that defendant was a trespasser. Additionally, although the Court found the better course would have been to give the jury an instruction on mere presence, the failure to do so was harmless error. The Court therefore vacated the panel's judgment requiring a new trial on that issue. View "New Jersey v. Randolph" on Justia Law

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At a status conference, the State took issue with the witness list defendant produced because it listed the names of three men but did not provide identifiers, addresses, or synopses of their anticipated testimony which the State alleged was in violation of Rule3:13-3(b)(2)(C). In response, defendant agreed to produce identifiers and addresses but argued against providing synopses. Defendant asserted that the Rule required that synopses be produced only if they have already been reduced to writing. Defense counsel affirmed that no witness statement summaries had been prepared. The trial court ordered the defense to produce witness synopses and to create them if they had not been previously drafted. The court specifically ordered defense counsel to provide the State with the reason why the witnesses are on the list. The Appellate Division summarily reversed the trial court s order, reasoning that a criminal defendant s disclosures are carefully limited by the strictures of Rule3:13-3(b)(2). The Supreme Court found a plain reading of Rule3:13-3(b)(2)(C) required production of witness statements only if those statements have already been reduced to writing. Nothing in the rules precludes a trial court from ordering a defendant to designate witnesses as either character or fact witnesses, however. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Appellate Division's reversal of the discovery order as it related to the witness statements and modify the panel's determination that the trial court improperly ordered defendant to designate fact and character witnesses. View "New Jersey v. Tier" on Justia Law