Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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The New Jersey Supreme Court found that counsel for both sides raised an intriguing question in this case: whether an identification made by a law enforcement officer should be tested by the same standards that apply to a civilian. The State presented strong evidence that defendant Dorian Pressley distributed cocaine. According to the testimony at trial, defendant sold two vials of cocaine directly to an undercover detective. At the end of the face-to-face exchange, defendant gave the detective his phone number and told her to store the number under the first three letters of his name. A second officer observed the transaction. Immediately after the sale, the undercover officer transmitted a description of defendant to a supervisor. The second officer also radioed information about defendant’s movements. About four blocks from where the sale took place, a third officer stopped defendant, who matched the description. The officer realized he knew the suspect and let him go to protect the ongoing undercover operation. Back at headquarters, the third officer printed a photo of defendant. The undercover detective also returned to headquarters. Within one hour of the transaction, she viewed the single photo of defendant and said she was certain that the individual in the picture had sold her the two vials. Defendant was arrested and convicted after trial of third-degree possession of heroin, third-degree distribution of cocaine, and third-degree distribution of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court should have held a pretrial hearing to evaluate the reliability of the identification. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that it could not determine whether part or all of the protections outlined in New Jersey v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208 (2011) should apply to identifications made by law enforcement officers: “Even if the trial judge in this case had held a pretrial hearing, though, it is difficult to imagine that the identification would have been suppressed. Although showups are inherently suggestive, ‘the risk of misidentification is not heightened if a showup is conducted’ within two hours of an event. Here, the identification took place within an hour. In addition, the trial judge gave the jury a full instruction on identification evidence, consistent with Henderson and the model jury charge.” The Court affirmed the Appellate Division and upheld defendant’s convictions. View "New Jersey v. Pressley" on Justia Law

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From 2012 to 2015, Morris County, New Jersey awarded $4.6 million in taxpayer funds to repair twelve churches, as part of a historic preservation program. This appeal raised two questions for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration: whether the grant program violated the Religious Aid Clause of the New Jersey Constitution and, if so, whether the Religious Aid Clause conflicts with the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court found the Religious Aid Clause has been a part of New Jersey’s history since the 1776 Constitution. The clause guaranteed that “[n]o person shall . . . be obliged to pay . . . taxes . . . for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.” The clause reflected a historic and substantial state interest. The Court found the plain language of the Religious Aid Clause bars the use of taxpayer funds to repair and restore churches, and that Morris County’s program "ran afoul of that longstanding provision." Morris County and the grant recipients claimed that to withhold grants from eligible churches would violate their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The County and the churches relied heavily on Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 582 U.S. ___, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017), as grounds for their argument. The New Jersey Court determined that all of the defendant churches had active congregations, and all conducted regular worship services in one or more structures repaired with grant funds. Several churches specifically explained that they sought funds in order to be able to continue to host religious services. "We do not believe Trinity Lutheran would require that grants be considered and extended to religious institutions under those circumstances." Therefore the New Jersey Court reversed the trial court’s decision to uphold the grants. View "Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Defendant Donnell Jones and a female accomplice committed an armed robbery against a woman and her young daughter in a New Brunswick park. Defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree armed robbery and second-degree certain persons not to have weapons. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss other charges. The State further agreed to recommend a sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment on the armed-robbery charge, subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier and five years’ parole supervision. That sentence would run concurrently with a seven-year sentence, subject to five years of parole ineligibility, on the certain-persons charge. At sentencing, the court asked defendant whether he wanted to say anything. Defendant stated, “First of all, I am guilty . . . of my crime, a hundred percent guilty. Am I sorry for what I did? No. I’m not.” The court asked defendant, “You’re not sorry?” and a short exchange followed, during which defendant said that the victim “was not the target.” Defendant stated, “Other than that, then that’s it.” The prosecutor finished her summation; defendant did not speak again nor did he or his counsel ask to speak again. The court found three aggravating factors and no mitigating factors. Although defendant was extended-term eligible, the sentences imposed by the court adhered precisely to defendant’s plea bargain. Defendant did not file a direct appeal. He filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant sought to have his case remanded for resentencing because the sentencing court:(1) failed to provide a statement of reasons for aggravating factor nine; (2) wrongly considered defendant’s arrest history; and (3) violated his right to allocute and to present mitigating information. Defendant petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to review his claim that his right to allocute and present mitigating information was violated. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed his sentence. View "New Jersey v. Jones" on Justia Law

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On December 5, 2010, Thomas Carbin was stabbed to death. The Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office began interviewing individuals to obtain information about Carbin and learned that defendant Lori Hummel was in Carbin’s “circle of acquaintances.” Investigator Krohn discovered that defendant had two outstanding traffic bench warrants. Investigator Krohn advised defendant that he was going to bring her to the police station for the traffic warrants but assured her that she would be released on her own recognizance. Detectives began asking defendant substantive questions without advising her of her Miranda rights. Defendant resisted answering any more questions, stating she thought she wanted to get a lawyer. Detectives thereafter notified defendant she had an outstanding warrant. Defendant asked several times whether she could make a phone call to her lawyer. One detective took defendant’s purse from the table, and defendant stated that she did not like that he had her pocketbook. Defendant was then notified she was “in custody,” at that point, detectives began taking everything out of defendant’s purse and placing each item on the table in the interrogation room. Police arrested defendant three days later; a Grand Jury ultimately returned an indictment, charging defendant with first-degree murder; first-degree felony murder; first-degree robbery; third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose; and fourth-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Later, third-degree conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) was added to defendant’s list of charges. Defendant waived her right to an indictment in exchange for the State amending her first-degree murder charge to first-degree aggravated manslaughter. The indictment and accusation were then consolidated for disposition. Defendant moved to suppress her statements to police and the physical evidence obtained during her 2010 interrogation. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court found no valid inventory search, affirming the Appellate Division’s determination that the evidence seized during the search should have been suppressed. The Court remanded to permit defendant to withdraw her guilty plea and continue at the trial court level or, in the alternative, to proceed before a PCR court on other issues she has preserved. View "New Jersey v. Hummel" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s consideration was whether defendant Noah Mosley’s due process rights were violated because the State relied on hearsay evidence to prove the violation of probation (VOP) charge filed against him. Defendant’s VOP hearing was “atypical.” He was charged with violating probation because new criminal charges were filed against him; however, the new criminal charges had not yet been adjudicated when the State requested that the court proceed and sentence defendant on the VOP. At the VOP hearing, the State advanced hearsay evidence to substantiate the new criminal charges. The State did not produce the officer who had witnessed the alleged new criminal acts for which defendant was later identified and charged as the perpetrator. Nor did the State provide justification for that failure, relying on the proposition that hearsay is admissible in probation violation hearings. The Appellate Division has previously determined it “fair and practical” for a court to admit “reliable hearsay evidence” in such hearings. Building on the “sound legal foundation” of New Jersey v. Reyes, 207 N.J. Super. 126 (App. Div. 1986), the Supreme Court held hearsay was generally admissible in a VOP hearing. When assessing the State’s ability to rely on hearsay to satisfy its proof obligation without contravening a defendant’s due process rights, a court fundamentally should consider the State’s reasons for relying on hearsay forms of evidence and the reliability of the evidence for its proposed purpose. Because here, the hearsay presented was insufficient to prove the new underlying substantive offense that was the premise for defendant’s probation violation and sentence. The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division judgment that upheld defendant’s probation violation. View "New Jersey v. Mosley" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s consideration was whether defendant Noah Mosley’s due process rights were violated because the State relied on hearsay evidence to prove the violation of probation (VOP) charge filed against him. Defendant’s VOP hearing was “atypical.” He was charged with violating probation because new criminal charges were filed against him; however, the new criminal charges had not yet been adjudicated when the State requested that the court proceed and sentence defendant on the VOP. At the VOP hearing, the State advanced hearsay evidence to substantiate the new criminal charges. The State did not produce the officer who had witnessed the alleged new criminal acts for which defendant was later identified and charged as the perpetrator. Nor did the State provide justification for that failure, relying on the proposition that hearsay is admissible in probation violation hearings. The Appellate Division has previously determined it “fair and practical” for a court to admit “reliable hearsay evidence” in such hearings. Building on the “sound legal foundation” of New Jersey v. Reyes, 207 N.J. Super. 126 (App. Div. 1986), the Supreme Court held hearsay was generally admissible in a VOP hearing. When assessing the State’s ability to rely on hearsay to satisfy its proof obligation without contravening a defendant’s due process rights, a court fundamentally should consider the State’s reasons for relying on hearsay forms of evidence and the reliability of the evidence for its proposed purpose. Because here, the hearsay presented was insufficient to prove the new underlying substantive offense that was the premise for defendant’s probation violation and sentence. The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division judgment that upheld defendant’s probation violation. View "New Jersey v. Mosley" on Justia Law

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This appeal raised the question of whether, in cases involving a search warrant, Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B) required the State to produce the affidavit underlying the warrant prior to a pretrial detention hearing pursuant to the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26. During defendant Melvin Dickerson’s pretrial detention hearing, the court denied the State’s motion for pretrial detention. Relying on Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B), the court ordered defendant released subject to conditions as a discovery sanction for the State’s failure to produce the search warrant affidavit. On interlocutory appeal, the Appellate Division agreed that the State was obliged to produce the affidavit but held that the trial court erred by releasing defendant as a discovery sanction. Therefore, the Appellate Division directed the State to produce the affidavit and remanded for a full pretrial detention hearing. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment ordering production of the search warrant affidavit, and also found no evidence or allegation of misconduct on the part of the State justifying discovery sanctions for failure to produce the search warrant affidavit. Thus, the Court agreed with the Appellate Division that the pretrial release of defendant was in error and that the case should be remanded for a full pretrial detention hearing. View "New Jersey v. Dickerson" on Justia Law

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This appeal sought the proper standard for appellate review of pretrial detention decisions under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26. In a complaint-warrant, the State charged defendant S.N. with first-degree aggravated sexual assault on a person under the age of thirteen; fourth-degree lewdness; and second-degree child endangerment. Following defendant’s arrest, a pretrial services officer prepared a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) that rated defendant a 1 out of 6, the lowest possible risk score, for both failure to appear and new criminal activity. Despite the low risk scores, the PSA concluded “No Release Recommended.” The State then moved for pretrial detention. The prosecution certified that there was a “serious risk” that “defendant will not appear in court,” and “defendant will pose a danger to any other person or the community.” The certification stated, “[d]efendant’s victim is his step-daughter. Defendant is a risk to harm and intimidate his victim and her mother and to obstruct justice by interfering with the investigation and witnesses. Defendant is a risk of flight because his biological mother and sister live in Canada.” The trial court found that the State had established probable cause that defendant committed the charged offenses. The court specifically found that defendant was eligible for detention under the statute. The court gave “great weight to [the No Early Release Act]NERA, the fact that this is a NERA offense and first degree, the dual citizenship, due to the extensi[ve] exposure of incarceration if convicted, the fact that release was not recommended, and the fact that this is considered a violent offense.” The Appellate Division reversed and released defendant with conditions, finding the trial court abused its discretion by not considering defendant’s age, level of prior criminal involvement and ties to the community.” The Appellate Division required as part of defendant’s release that “defendant must report to pretrial detention as frequently as necessary to determine his compliance with restraining orders prohibiting him from having any contact with the victim or her family . . . . [and] must surrender his passport.” The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court abused its discretion, finding that the trial court’s decision rested on an “impermissible basis,” “fail[ed] to take into consideration all relevant factors,” including defendant’s characteristics as he stood before the court, and “reflects a clear error in judgment.” The next appropriate procedural step was to remand the matter to the trial court to determine the suitable conditions of release: Remand is required because the trial court has the opportunity at a detention hearing to “hear and see witnesses” and gain a “'feel’ of the case which a reviewing court cannot enjoy.” View "New Jersey v. S.N." on Justia Law

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The Appellate Division reversed defendant Tormu Prall’s conviction, finding that: (1) his prior threat to kill his girlfriend, Jessie Harley, was admitted in error and without a limiting instruction; (2) the State improperly utilized prior bad act evidence in closing; and (3) statements by defendant’s brother John Prall to John’s girlfriend Kimberly Meadows were inadmissible hearsay and did not qualify as dying declarations or excited utterances. Defendant was convicted for the arson murder of his brother. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certification and reversed the Appellate Division and reinstated defendant’s convictions. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate panel’s legal conclusions that the trial court erred by allowing evidence that defendant threatened to burn down Jessie’s homes and by admitting John’s hearsay statements to Kimberly that defendant was responsible for the arson. However, the Court found the errors were not capable of producing an unjust result because of the overwhelming weight and quality of the evidence against defendant. View "New Jersey v. Prall" on Justia Law

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Carlos Guerrero and Alex Mejia were walking in New Brunswick after a night of drinking. A video surveillance camera captured defendant Karlton Bailey approaching Guerrero from behind and putting his hand in Guerrero’s back pocket. Mejia responded by running across the street to confront defendant. The conflict quickly turned violent. Upon seeing defendant draw a gun, Mejia held his hands up in the air and backed away. Defendant followed Mejia into the street, struck him in the face, searched his pockets, and fled the scene. A Grand Jury returned an indictment (Indictment 1650) against defendant, charging him with second-degree possession of a firearm by certain persons not to possess a firearm. A second indictment (Indictment 1317) charged defendant with robbery, assault, and weapons offenses. A jury found defendant guilty on all counts of Indictment 1317. A separate jury trial on the certain persons indictment immediately followed. At that trial, defendant did not stipulate to the predicate convictions that prohibited him from possessing a firearm. The parties agreed that evidence of defendant’s prior convictions would be sanitized, that is, “redacted except for the date and the degree of the offense.” The trial court properly advised the jury that they “must disregard [their] prior verdict, and consider anew the evidence previously admitted on possession of a weapon.” The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on the sanitization and model jury charge, and whether that clean-up infringed on defendant’s constitutional right to be tried by a jury on all necessary elements of each charged offense. Over-sanitization here rendered the proof insufficient to demonstrate that the defendant previously violated a predicate offense enumerated within the certain persons statute. The New Jersey Court reversed and remanded, holding that when a defendant refuses to stipulate to a predicate offense under the certain persons statute, the State shall produce evidence of the predicate offense: the judgment of conviction with the unredacted nature of the offense, the degree of offense, and the date of conviction. Furthermore, the model jury charge on this issue had to be revised. View "New Jersey v. Bailey" on Justia Law