Monthly Archives: June 2008
This morning the New Jersey Supreme Court released a quartet of opinions related to how Crawford v. Washington issues are to be determined under New Jersey law. These cases, in conjunction with several earlier decisions from the Appellate Division, will now provide the procedural and evidential framework by which Crawford issues will be decided in future criminal and quasi-criminal cases in the Superior and municipal courts.
In its rulings today, the Court held as follows:
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State v. Buda – In this case, a severely injured three year old boy made statements at the hospital to both his mother and a DYFS worker that he had been beaten by his mother’s boyfriend. At trial the child did not testify. The trial court ruled that the child’s statements qualified as an excited utterance, but the nature of the statement made to the DYFS worker was testimonial within the meaning of Crawford and thus inadmissible in evidence. However, a sharply divided New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 that the child’s statement to the DYFS investigator was taken under an emergency situation where the primary purpose of the investigator was to protect the child as opposed to gathering evidence to be used in a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Appellate Division holding and ruled that the statement to the DYFS worker was non-testimonial.
Download a copy of State v. Buda.
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State in the Interest of JA. – In this case, an eyewitness to a mugging trailed the purported suspects and gave a brief description on the street of the perpetrators to an investigating police officer. As a result, the police were able to apprehend the defendant. At trial, the eyewitness did not testify. However, his statements to the police officer were admitted as an excited utterance and a present sense impression. The Appellate Division ruled that the statements were non-testimonial as they were quickly given during the course of an emergency investigation by the police. The Supreme Court reversed this holding and ruled that there was no emergency confronting the police, the victim or the witness at the time the statement was taken on the street. Accordingly, the statement was testimonial within the meaning of Crawford and thus inadmissible at trial.
Download a copy of State in the Interest of J.A.
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State v. Sweet and State v. Dorman – These two cases have been merged for purposes of the Court’s decision and will be published under the caption State v, Sweet. The issue in these cases relates to the admissibility of both ampoule testing certificates and breath test instrument inspection certificates. The Supreme Court ruled that these documents are generally admissible as business records or public records and, like most business records, are non-testimonial within the meaning of Crawford.
Download a copy of State v. Sweet and State v. Dorman.
On Friday, in State v. Burno-Taylor, the Appellate Division reversed the denial of a motion to suppress evidence of a confession based upon the failure of the State to scrupulously honor the defendant’s request to remain silent. Note in the opinion that the Appellate Division relied upon the video of the confession and overruled the Law Division based upon the lower court’s misinterpretation of the applicable law as opposed to its factual findings based on the tape.
Download a copy of State v. Burno-Taylor.
In an order released on Friday, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a reprimand for a municipal court judge who issued a temporary restraining order in a domestic violence case on behalf of his own court administrator. Apart from having a close professional working relationship with the court administrator, the judge had previously had a detailed conversation with her related to her domestic difficulties.
The case was considered by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC), which found that the judge’s action in granting the TRO for his own court administrator was a clear conflict. The ACJC recommendation of a reprimand was followed by the Supreme Court. Links to both the Supreme Court’s judicial disciplinary order and the ACJC presentment are provided below.
Link to Supreme Court Order >
Link to ACJC Presentment >
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has begun to assess motor vehicle penalty points on traffic tickets that are marked in municipal court as dismissed by way of merger. This process was triggered as a result of an unpublished Appellate Division decision captioned State v. Price. In Price, the Court ruled that the points associated with moving violations that are dismissed by of merger into a greater included offense survive the merger and should be assessed by the sentencing Court.
The vast majority of the cases that are marked as dismissed by way of merger in municipal court are done improperly, often with both the State and defense asking for a routine dismissal of tickets that are companion to a DWI charge “as merged.” However, as the Appellate Division explained in State v. Martin, 335 N.J. Super. 447, 450-51 (App. Div. 2000):
“It is inappropriate to order merger of one charged offense to which no plea of guilty has been entered with another in respect of which a guilty plea has been entered. Merger occurs, not of charges but rather of convictions, when there are two or more convictions which, by the standards of State v. Dillihay, 127 N.J. 42, 601 A.2d 1149 (1992) and State v. Gonzalez, 123 N.J. 462, 588 A.2d 816 (1991), must be treated as one for the purposes of sentencing.”
Thus, the only time a dismissal by way of merger would be appropriate in municipal court is when there has either been a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt on both the greater-included and lesser included-offenses. The proper method for dismissing these cases is by way of a motion by the State for a direct dismissal, a practice that is authorized in DWI cases by the Guidelines governing plea bargaining in municipal court.
The merger issue will also come into play in driving on the revoked list cases where the merged point offenses that are companion to the 39:3-40 charge will trigger an additional 10-day period of incarceration beyond what the defendant served for his previous violation. (See N.J.S.A. 39:3-40(j)).
Download a copy of The UNPUBLISHED Appellate Division decision in State v. Price, 2007 WL 3287844.
By order dated June 16, 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court has censured Municipal Court Judge Sybil Elias. The Court’s disciplinary order was based upon a report from the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) that was issued at the end of May. In its report, the ACJC found that the judge had violated the Canons of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Court by engaging in an improper ex parte conference with a litigant in her chambers. The litigant, who was an extremely close friend of the judge, was the defendant in a minor traffic case scheduled in the judge’s court. After discussing the case with the judge in chambers, the litigant was permitted to leave the court house while the judge dismissed the ticket without costs off the record. Although the ticket was to have been dismissed in any event on motion of the state, the municipal prosecutor did not participate in the discussions in chambers or in the actions of the judge of dismissing the ticket off the record and excusing the defendant from attending court.
Download a copy of ACJC Presentment in In re Elias.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court’s Ad Hoc Committee on Continuing Legal Education (CLE), chaired by former Associate Justice Peter G. Verniero, made public its draft report to the Supreme Court. The Committee concluded that the Supreme Court should make CLE mandatory for most New Jersey attorneys and provided 19 recommendations for the Court to consider in implementing this requirement. Among the recommendations is that 24 credit hours be required for virtually all N.J. attorneys on a two-year cycle.
The Supreme Court will accept written comments submitted by Sept. 15. Comments should be sent to Clerk of the Supreme Court, Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex, P.O. Box 970, Trenton, NJ, 08625-0970. Comments also may be submitted via e-mail to Comments.Mailbox@judiciary.state.nj.us.
Download a copy of the Ad Hoc Committee’s Report.