Criminal defendants are afforded the right to confront any witnesses that testify against them by both the New Jersey and the United States Constitutions. Thus, if a defendant is denied the right to cross-examine a witness, it may result in a miscarriage of justice. There are some limitations to the right to confront witnesses, though, that may constrain a defendant’s right to question a witness regarding certain topics. Recently, a New Jersey court addressed the issue of whether a criminal defendant that is charged with the same crime as a cooperating witness may question the witness regarding his sentencing exposure. If you are charged with a criminal offense, it is essential to retain a dedicated New Jersey criminal defense attorney who will fight to help you seek a just outcome.
Facts of the Case
It is reported that the defendant, the witness, and another individual were arrested and charged with burglary. The witness accepted a cooperating plea offer, agreeing to testify against the defendant and the other individual in exchange for a three-year sentence. The trial judge suggested a modification of the agreement, which ultimately resulted in a reduced sentence of one hundred and eighty days in jail, followed by probation. The witness then testified against the defendant at trial.
Allegedly, in an attempt to establish the bias of the witness, the defendant’s counsel tried to question the witness regarding his plea negotiations and the sentence he would have faced if he had not agreed to testify against the defendant. The trial court barred the attorney from asking such questions, however, stating that it could prejudice the jury. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment, after which he appealed, arguing that the trial court’s limitation of his cross-examination of the witness deprived him of his right to confrontation.