Right to Counsel in Family Court – State v. Ashford

This morning’s Appellate Division decision in State v. Ashford is important in two respects. The facts of the case involve the trial of disorderly persons offenses in family court that were related to a domestic violence restraining order violation. The State’s entire case was based upon hearsay which was admitted into evidence as an excited utterance (N.J.R.E. 803(c)(2)).

Prior to the beginning of the trial, the Family Court trial judge took virtually no steps to advise the defendant of his right to appointed counsel if he could demonstrate that he was an indigent.

The Appellate Division reversed the conviction, holding that the normal right to assigned counsel that a defendant would receive in municipal court also applies to the Family Part of Superior Court when that court exercises its concurrent jurisdiction in the trial of non-indictable offenses.

Even more interesting was the Appellate Division’s discussion of the possibility that the use of otherwise admissible, excited utterance hearsay under n.J.R.E. 803(c)(2)in a case such as this may be barred in light of the United States Supreme Court decision last March in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004).

Download a copy of State v. Ashford

In light of the importance of the Crawford decision and its reference in this opinion, muni-mail will add Crawford v. Washington to the web site archive today.

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