Articles Posted in Criminal Law

Police-ID-Hudson-County--300x200In New Jersey, the rules of evidence indicate that lay opinion testimony, which is non-expert witness testimony, is admissible when two conditions are met. First, the witness’s testimony must be rationally based on their perception. Secondly, the testimony must assist in understanding the witness’s testimony or determining a fact in issue.

However, assessing the admissibility and helpfulness of lay opinion testimony may present challenges when the potential for undue prejudice surfaces.

In State v. Sanchez , the Defendant filed a pretrial motion to exclude the lay opinion testimony of his parole officer who had identified him as a suspect in connection with a homicide and robbery investigation.

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Over the years, thousands of motorists have been stopped for having their license plate partially blocked.  Often times, the stops are pretextual in that law enforcement’s real interest in the vehicle and its occupants is the desire to conduct a criminal investigation.  In State v. Roman Rosado and State v. Darius Carter, two individuals that had been pulled over in a pre-textual manner challenged the statute on constitutional grounds.  Rosado and Carter prevailed in their challenges.

The Supreme court ruled that N.J.S.A. 39:3-33 should be read narrowly and afford individuals whose license plates are partially blocked but otherwise legible the benefit of the doubt.  More specifically, the court stated that, “if a frame conceals or obscures a marking in a way that it cannot be reasonably identified or discerned, the driver would be in violation of the law.”  Conversely, if a phrase like “Garden State” is partly covered but still recognizable, there would be not violation.

This decision is immensely important for individuals who are pulled over in a pre textual manner only to have a subsequent investigation lead to a car search and the recovery of alleged criminal contraband.

A petition for compassionate release is typically granted to inmates who suffer from a terminal illness or profound incapacity that renders them physically incapable of committing a crime in the future.

In New Jersey, there are specific requirements that must be met prior to a court’s consideration for compassionate release. First, an inmate must present a Certificate of Eligibility from the Corrections Department indicating that two department-designated physicians have determined that the inmate suffers from a terminal condition or permanent physical incapacity that did not exist at the time of sentencing.

After such a certificate is presented, the court may grant compassionate release but only if the court has found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the inmate is physically incapable of committing future crimes and that they pose no threat to public safety.

Ineffective assistance of counsel is a claim that a criminal defendant may assert when their defense attorney’s inadequate representation constitutes a violation of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

However, not all cases concerning an attorney’s unsatisfactory performance entitle a defendant to relief. The 1984 landmark Supreme Court case of Strickland v. Washington outlined the two requirements for proving ineffective assistance of counsel: (1) counsel’s performance must be deficient under the circumstances, and (2) but for the counsel’s deficient performance, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the case would have been different.

Since inadequate representation creates unfair disadvantages to defendants, and often wrongful convictions, successful ineffective assistance of counsel claims may allow for an overturned conviction, vacated sentence or even a new trial.

During the process of jury selection, attorneys from either side may seek to remove jurors they deem unfit to serve.  A “for cause” challenge allows attorneys to exclude potential jurors that do not meet the standard criteria or cannot remain impartial when applying the law.

A peremptory challenge, on the other hand, permits attorneys to excuse potential jurors without any explanation.  The Federal and State Constitutions allow attorneys to use a limited number of peremptory challenges as long as jurors are not rejected based on their race, gender, religion or class.  New Jersey courts have established a specific analysis that allows parties to contest a peremptory challenge if it is believed to be discriminatory.

In State v. Andujar, the Defendant was accused of stabbing his roommate multiple times with a knife.  A few days after the incident, the roommate died as a result of the stab wounds. In 2017, the Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and two weapons offenses.

No, a defendant’s right to have an attorney present during interrogation is guaranteed by both the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona.

Accordingly, any statements made during the interrogation of a defendant in custody may be admissible as evidence only if the defendant is fully aware of their rights and made their statements voluntarily.

On July 20th, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey decided in State v. Dorff, that the trial court erred in denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statements to law enforcement during one of two separate interrogations. The Court came to this conclusion based on the circumstances surrounding the Defendant’s statements to law enforcement and the violation of her right to counsel.

Jury instructions are directions from a judge to the jury that provide guidance in their deliberations to reach a verdict. These instructions are meant to help jurors understand the applicable laws and how they should assess the facts of the case.

Sadly, there are instances where such instructions are flawed and can unjustly influence a jury’s decision-making process.

In State v. Oguta, the Defendant sought to appeal his conviction on a fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon charge because the trial court judge did not grant his request for a self-defense jury instruction.

The process of criminal pretrial discovery, which involves an exchange of information between parties, is guided by specific rules and limitations. Protective orders, for example, may limit what information is provided to the opposing party or to whom such information may be provided.

Although restricting information may seem like a detriment to the party seeking certain discovery, such restrictions are sometimes justified by public policy considerations such as fairness and privacy.

On June 4th, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey decided in State v. Ramirez, that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the State’s motion for a protective order to exclude a victim’s home address from discovery made available to the Defendant and his counsel. The Court came to this conclusion based on (1) the nature of the alleged sexual assault, and (2) the relevant matters of public policy.

Voir dire, which means “to speak the truth” in French, also refers to the examination of prospective jurors to determine whether or not they are suitable for jury service. During this jury selection process, a judge may ask standard questions to excuse anyone deemed incapable of serving on a jury. Attorneys involved in the case may also question the jurors to identify any potential biases. If any such biases are suspected, the attorneys may request to remove the biased jurors or exercise a peremptory challenge to exclude those jurors from the trial.

However, some questions asked during this process are likely to create rather than reveal partiality within prospective jurors.

In State v. Leo T. Little, Jr. , the Defendant sought to challenge his convictions for aggravated assault and weapons offenses on the ground that voir dire questioning by the trial court of prospective jurors during jury selection deprived him of a fair trial.

Yes, as held in State v. Sims, if the Court determines that the waiver was not signed knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily then that waiver is considered ineffective and the defendant’s Fifth Amendment Rights can still be violated.

The right against self-incrimination is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and by New Jersey statutes. The historic 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, requires law enforcement to inform individuals in police custody of these rights prior to questioning.

Generally, by signing a waiver of these rights, an individual who is in police custody acknowledges that they are not being pressured or coerced to provide information to law enforcement personnel.   However, there are exceptions to this general proposition.

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