Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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In consolidated appeals, defendants were convicted of fourth-degree operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension for driving while intoxicated (DWI) under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26. The issue presented was whether N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(c) -- which prescribed a “fixed minimum” sentence of at least 180 days without parole eligibility -- overrode N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(7)’s general sentencing option, which allowed a court to impose a sentence that was served “at night or on weekends with liberty to work or to participate in training or educational programs,” unless otherwise provided. All five defendants -- Rene Rodriguez, Elizabeth Colon, Eric Lowers, Stephen Nolan, and Courtney Swiderski -- appeared before the same judge and were sentenced to 180 days in the county jail, to be served intermittently. Rodriguez and Colon were ordered to serve their sentences four nights per week, while Lowers, Nolan, and Swiderski were ordered to serve their sentences on weekends. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the language chosen by the Legislature in enacting New Jersey’s Code of Criminal Justice (the Criminal Code or Title 2C) as interpreted by the Court meant that an individual sentenced to a fixed minimum term of parole ineligibility under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(c) could not serve his or her sentence intermittently at night or on weekends pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(7). The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "New Jersey v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Defendant Shameik Byrd sold heroin to defendants Noel Ferguson and Anthony Potts in Paterson, New Jersey. Afterwards, Ferguson and Potts returned to their home state of New York where they sold the heroin they purchased to Kean Cabral in the Town of Warwick. Cabral died of an overdose in his home after taking the heroin originally sold by Byrd. As a result of allegedly causing Cabral’s death, Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd were charged with violating New Jersey’s strict-liability drug-induced death statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. Generally, the State can exercise territorial jurisdiction when either the defendant’s conduct or the result of that conduct occurs in New Jersey and is an element of a criminal offense. However, absent a clear legislative purpose indicating otherwise, a defendant cannot be prosecuted for “conduct charged” in New Jersey when that defendant’s acts within the State's borders cause a result in another state where, under that state’s law, the “conduct charged” does not constitute a crime. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that New Jersey’s Code of Criminal Justice restricted the State’s exercise of territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd for a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), the State could not exercise territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson and Potts on the strict-liability drug-induced death charge because their distribution of heroin to Cabral and Cabral’s death did not occur in New Jersey. View "New Jersey v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether defendant A.M., who spoke limited English, waived his constitutional right against self-incrimination pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. A.M. was convicted on multiple counts of the sexual assault of his fourteen year old step-granddaughter. Because defendant spoke little English and stated that he was more comfortable with Spanish, Detective Richard Ramos assisted in translating the interview from English to Spanish. The entire interview was video-recorded to a DVD and later transcribed in English by a clerk-typist employed by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. Before the interview, Detective Ramos reviewed with defendant a Spanish-language form prepared by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which listed each of defendant’s Miranda rights and contained a waiver paragraph. Detective Ramos read defendant his Miranda rights from the Spanish-language form, pausing after reading each one to ask defendant in Spanish if he understood. Defendant replied “sí” each time and initialed each line. Detective Ramos then handed the form to defendant to review the waiver portion and asked in Spanish, “Do you understand?” Defendant replied, “Sí,” and Detective Ramos told defendant to sign in two places, which defendant did. During the course of the interrogation that followed, defendant admitted to touching his step-granddaughter inappropriately. The Appellate Division reversed, finding the State failed to prove defendant made a voluntary decision to waive his Miranda rights. Although the Supreme Court surmised the better practice would have been to read aloud the form’s waiver portion to defendant, it relied on the trial court’s "well-supported observations and factual findings" and reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment. View "New Jersey v. A.M." on Justia Law

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Defendant Adrian Vincenty argued two detectives failed to inform him of the criminal charges filed against him when they interrogated him and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. Relying on New Jersey v. A.G.D., 178 N.J. 56, 68 (2003), Vincenty filed a motion to suppress statements he made to the detectives. The trial court denied his motion in part and granted it in part. The trial court held that the detectives did not violate A.G.D., but the court suppressed the statements Vincenty made to the detectives after he invoked his right to counsel. Vincenty pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted murder and was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment with an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier. Vincenty appealed the denial of his motion to suppress. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s denial of Vincenty’s motion to suppress. According to the Appellate Division, the record showed that Vincenty was informed of the charges pending against him before he waived his right against self-incrimination. Thus, the Appellate Division held, the detectives did not contravene A.G.D. After its review, the New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, finding the record revealed the detectives failed to inform Vincenty of the charges filed against him when they read him his rights and asked him to waive his right against self-incrimination. "That failure deprived Vincenty of the ability to knowingly and intelligently waive his right against self-incrimination. Pursuant to A.G.D., Vincenty’s motion to suppress should have been granted." The Court thus reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Vincenty" on Justia Law

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Michael Miller was convicted of possessing and distributing over 900 images and videos of child pornography through the use of online peer-to-peer file-sharing programs. He was also in possession of thirty-three CDs and DVDs, eleven of which contained photographs and recordings of child pornography separate from those found on his computer. The trial court ultimately sentenced Miller to seven years’ imprisonment for the distribution charge and one year of imprisonment for the possession charge. The court determined that the sentences must run consecutively, reasoning that Miller’s crimes “were independent of one another, involv[ing] separate acts committed at different times.” In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether it was an abuse of discretion for a trial court to apply aggravating factor one when sentencing a defendant convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography, and whether Miller was appropriately sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment. The Court concluded the Appellate Division’s opinion deprived trial judges of their discretion to make nuanced assessments of the nature and circumstances of offenses involving child pornography. Miller’s possession charge involved child pornographic material beyond that involved in his distribution charge -- there was pornographic material in Miller’s possession for an extended period of time that was not encompassed in the distribution charge. The possession and distribution offenses were therefore distinct, and the trial court appropriately determined that the offenses did not merge for sentencing purposes. View "New Jersey v.Miller" on Justia Law

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One week after defendants’ murder trial began, after counsel made opening statements and examined four of the State’s witnesses, the prosecutor turned over to defense counsel nineteen reports that were in the State’s possession but had not previously been provided to defendants. Defendants moved to dismiss the indictment with prejudice. The trial court did not resolve the dismissal motion, and the case continued. At trial, the court made several significant evidentiary rulings. One ruling reversed the pretrial holding of another judge by admitting the murder victim’s dying declaration heard by the victim’s wife. Another ruling excluded as unreliable a police officer’s affidavit used in four separate search warrant applications. The excluded affidavit was offered by defendants as evidence to impeach the victim’s wife and was relevant to a defense of third-party guilt. At the conclusion of the trial, a jury convicted defendants of murder. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the State’s failure to produce nineteen discovery items until one week after the beginning of defendants’ murder trial violated defendants’ due process rights under Brady. Though there was no evidence or allegation that the State acted in bad faith or intentionally in failing to timely produce the discoverable material, the Court nonetheless reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division, vacated defendants’ convictions, and remanded for a new trial because defendants were deprived of a fair trial. View "New Jersey v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Police officers responded to a noise complaint at a motel room and determined not to issue a summons when the renter of the room immediately complied with their request to turn down the music. Police nevertheless conducted an investigatory detention on a group of ten people and ran warrant checks on them. More than twenty minutes into the detention, police arrested defendant Deyvon Chisum for an outstanding warrant and discovered a concealed firearm on him. They then conducted pat-down searches on the remaining occupants and found a firearm on defendant Keshown Woodard. The trial court denied defendants’ motions to suppress the firearms, finding the police entered the motel room lawfully, Chisum was properly arrested because he had an outstanding warrant, and the seizure of the firearm he possessed was obtained through a lawful search incident to arrest. The trial court also found that the police were justified in conducting pat-down searches of the remaining occupants in the room for the officers’ safety. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court's findings. Once the renter of the motel room lowered the volume of the music and the police declined to issue summonses, the police no longer had any reasonable suspicion that would justify the continued detention of the room’s occupants. Once the noise was abated, the police no longer had an independent basis to detain the occupants, or a basis to run warrant checks on them. Such action was unlawful. And because the detention and warrant checks were unlawful, the subsequent pat-down of Woodard was also improper. Therefore, the Court reversed the Appellate Division and remanded this case to the trial court for the withdrawal of defendants’ guilty pleas and further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Chisum" on Justia Law

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Law enforcement officers arrested defendant Laurie Wint on a New Jersey murder charge and brought him to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office for questioning. Wint invoked his right to counsel after receiving Miranda warnings, and the interrogation ceased. Immediately afterwards, two detectives from Pennsylvania investigating an unrelated murder in Bucks County entered the interrogation room to question Wint. After receiving his rights for the second time, Wint again requested the presence of counsel, ending the interrogation. Wint remained in continuous pre-indictment custody in Camden County when, six months later, he was transported to Bucks County. There, Pennsylvania detectives again administered Miranda warnings but did not provide counsel as Wint had earlier requested. This time, Wint waived his rights and allegedly incriminated himself in the New Jersey murder. The trial court denied Wint’s motion to suppress his incriminating remarks believing that Wint reinitiated communication with the Pennsylvania detectives. With the admission of Wint’s incriminating statements at trial, a jury convicted Wint of passion/provocation manslaughter and other related offenses. The issues this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration centered on whether Pennsylvania detectives violated Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), by attempting to question defendant in Camden and later questioning him in Pennsylvania after he earlier requested counsel. The Court also considered the exceptions to the rule requiring the suppression of any statement secured during a subsequent custodial interrogation after a defendant requests counsel: whether (1) counsel was provided during the questioning, (2) defendant initiated the communication, or (3) a break in custody occurred. The Court concluded the Pennsylvania detectives violated Edwards by attempting to question Wint in Camden after his earlier request for counsel, and Wint did not initiate the interrogation that occurred in Bucks County. The giving of repeated Miranda warnings did not cure the Edwards violation. Pre-indictment, pretrial detainment did not qualify as a break in custody under Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010), and none of the exceptions set forth in Edwards applied here. Edwards required suppression of Wint’s incriminating statement concerning the shooting in Camden; the admission of that statement was not harmless error. View "New Jersey v. Wint" on Justia Law

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In March 2017, police officers responded to a report of a shooting in a parking lot at Lafayette Gardens in Jersey City and found Terrel Smith’s body; he had been shot multiple times. The police identified “Michael Gregg” as a witness and interviewed him. Over time, he made two separate -- and inconsistent -- statements. Gregg identified defendant Shaquan Hyppolite from a photo array. Defendant was charged and arrested for murder and weapons offenses. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint stated that “an eyewitness . . . positively identified Shaquan Hyppolite AKA Quan as the actor who” killed Terrel Smith. The State moved for pretrial detention the next day. Two days later, the State made available fifty-one pages of discovery materials and a DVD recording of Gregg’s interview. On the day of the detention hearing, the State also turned over a four-page written summary of that interview titled “Second Interview of [Gregg].” The State did not disclose Gregg’s first statement before the hearing. At the detention hearing, the court ordered that defendant be detained. Two months later, a grand jury indicted defendant. The State turned over additional discovery, including Gregg’s first statement to the police, recordings of interviews of "Bill" and "Frank," and an application for a communications data warrant for Gregg’s cell phone. This marked the first time defendant received Gregg’s initial statement to the police, in which he denied having seen the shooter. Bill’s statement revealed that he told the police he was in jail at the time of the homicide. Frank told the police that he was en route to Popeyes when he heard gunshots from Lafayette Gardens. The application for the communications data warrant noted that an eyewitness saw the victim engaged in a conversation with three men before the shooting, “which conflicts with [Gregg’s] version of events.” Based on the new discovery, defendant moved to reopen the detention hearing. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that when exculpatory evidence is disclosed after a detention hearing, judges should use a modified materiality standard to decide whether to reopen the hearing. "If there is a reasonable possibility that the result of the detention hearing would have been different had the evidence been disclosed, the hearing should be reopened." Applying that standard in this case, the Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to reopen the detention hearing. View "New Jersey v. Hyppolite" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carlos Green Green struck and killed Billy Dudley, who was lying in the road on a late night in December 2014. A toxicology lab determined Green’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be 0.210% at the time of the accident. Green had two prior DWI convictions in 1998 and 2009, for which his sentences each required completion of an educational course at the Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC). Dudley died as a result of his injuries and Green was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide while intoxicated and within 1,000 feet of a school. Before trial, the State moved in limine to introduce Green’s two prior DWI convictions, which the State argued were relevant to the issue of recklessness. According to the State, the prior convictions demonstrated that Green “had knowledge of the substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with driving while intoxicated.” The trial court denied the State’s motion to introduce those prior convictions; the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's decision. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding those prior convictions. View "New Jersey v. Green" on Justia Law