In a landmark decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court weighed in on a crucial issue of first impression: Must a criminal defendant be provided in-person interpreting services during a jury trial, or will video remote interpreting (VRI) suffice? The case of State v. Juracan-Juracan dives into this question, addressing a major point of contention within the legal community—especially given the significant adjustments courts have had to make in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oscar R. Juracan-Juracan, a native speaker of the Kaqchikel language, was charged with multiple offenses related to alleged sexual assault. Juracan-Juracan requested a Kaqchikel interpreter for his trial, but because the interpreter resided on the West Coast and only spoke Kaqchikel and Spanish, a second interpreter was needed to translate between Spanish and English. The interpreter himself expressed concerns about the effectiveness of remote interpretation during the jury trial. Despite these concerns, the trial court denied the request for in-person interpreting, citing financial constraints among other reasons.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for reconsideration. The Court made several crucial points:
Attorney Stephen Natoli successfully argued before a three-judge panel that his client’s rights had been violated during a 2019 trial handled by prior counsel. Following the trial, Defendant was sentenced to twenty-three (23) years in prison. He had been serving his prison sentence when he retained Mr. Natoli for his appeal.
At issue on appeal was whether or not, a testifying detective could narrate a video of the incident and render a lay opinion regarding an ultimate issue in the case: the cause of the car wreck.
Also at issue was whether or not valid waiver of Defendant’s appearance had occurred on the day of a crucial pre-trial testimonial hearing.
Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the laws of New Jersey, suspects are entitled to have an attorney present while they are held in custody for questioning.
But how explicit must your request for counsel be?
In State v. Laura Gonzalez, the Supreme Court of New Jersey answered this question.
Three Strikes Laws were adopted in certain jurisdictions to protect the public from habitual offenders who repeatedly commit certain violent crimes. These law typically mandate a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a third-time offender.
In New Jersey, the crimes that constitute “strikes” include those such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery.
But should crimes committed as juveniles be considered predicate offenses under the rule?
Although the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution reflect the importance of the fundamental right to privacy, there exists a few doctrines which allow for warrantless search of a home. One such exception to the warrant requirement is the protective sweep doctrine.
The United States Supreme Court determined in Maryland v. Buie that a protective sweep made during an in-home arrest is only justified when (1) officers can, as a precaution, search areas immediately adjoining the area of arrest if they are areas from which an attack can be immediately launched, and (2) officers can look beyond those adjoining spaces if that search is based on articulable facts that would make reasonably prudent officer believe there is a threat.
Although this is the standard for when arrests are made inside of a home, what happens when an arrest is made outside of the home? Recently, the Supreme Court of New Jersey answered this question in State v. Radel and State v. Terres.
Witness “impeachment” refers to the process of attacking a witness’s credibility and the accuracy of their testimony at trial. The Federal Rules of Evidence and the New Jersey Rules of Evidence both allow the impeachment of a witness’s credibility by use of their prior convictions. However, when the witness is a defendant testifying in their own trial, there are specific rules that apply to the State’s use of their prior convictions.
Under the N.J.R.E. 609, the use of a prior conviction is limited “[i]f, on the date the trial begins, more than ten years have passed since the witness’s conviction for a crime or release from confinement for it, whichever is later.” The rule also states that when a conviction is ten years remote, it “is admissible only if the court determines that its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect, with the proponent of the evidence having the burden of proof.”
On December 27, 2021 the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided in State v. Tywaun S. Hedgespeth that a lower court’s ruling, allowing the use of Defendant’s prior convictions for impeachment purposes was not harmless error.
On December 9, 2021 the New Jersey Appellate Division published a decision which struck down a portion of New Jersey’s terroristic threats statute. In State v. Calvin Fair, the defendant was charged with and convicted of terroristic threats. On appeal, Defendant argued constitutional over breadth regarding N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(a). Said section criminalizes threats of violence made with the purpose to terrorize another […] or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror. A three-judge panel agreed with the appellant’s arguments and struck down subsection (a). This resulted in a reversal of Defendant’s conviction and a remand for a new trial.
In Fair, the court analyzed different opinions throughout our nation’s state and federal courts. The court analyzed this case, in part, through the lens of the “true-threat” doctrine. The “true-threat” doctrine recognizes that our nation has a “profound national commitment to the debate on public issues which may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks […]” as well as “vituperative, abusive and inexact language.”
The court then focused on Virginia v. Black which held that Virginia’s criminal statute did “not run afoul of the First Amendment” because it did not just ban cross burning; it banned cross burning “with intent to intimidate.” The Court in Black held that a state can punish threatening speech or expression only when the speaker “means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”
The United States Constitution, through the Fourth Amendment, protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, however, provides even greater protections against these unreasonable searches and seizures.
Evidence obtained in violation of these constitutional protections is usually inadmissible as per the exclusionary rule. The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” is a legal metaphor used to describe such illegally gathered evidence and the inadmissibility of any additional evidence derived from it.
On November 3, 2021 the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey addressed the appropriate remedy for such unreasonable searches and seizures in State v. Caronna and State v. Collado.
In 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.