Articles Posted in General Criminal

The recently enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) aimed to enlarge and protect the rights of criminal defendants, in part by reducing and eliminating bail and pretrial containment for non-violent offenders that do not present a risk of harm. As the CJRA is relatively new, its scope and application are still being interpreted by the courts. This was demonstrated in a recent New Jersey appellate case in which the court ruled on the issue of whether the CJRA allowed for criminal contempt charges when a defendant violates the condition of his or her pretrial release. If you are faced with criminal charges, it is critical to retain a zealous New Jersey criminal defense attorney who will work to protect your interests.

Factual History

It is reported that two defendants were arrested and charged with unspecified crimes. They were both released without bail prior to trial, but they were required to comply with certain conditions. Each defendant independently violated one of the conditions of his release, and both were charged with contempt for violation of a court order. The trial courts independently ruled that, under the CJRA, the defendants could not be charged with contempt for violating a release order. The State appealed, and the appellate court reversed, after which the defendants appealed.

Criminal Contempt Under the CJRA

On appeal, the appellate court largely affirmed the trial court rulings. The appellate court noted that when a judge orders conditional pretrial release, the defendant must be notified of the conditions in a clear and specific manner so that the defendant is apprised of what conduct is acceptable. If a court fails to notify a defendant of the repercussions for violating the terms of his or her release, it does not preclude the court from seeking any authorized remedy for the violation.

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If a person is charged with a crime, the State must prove each element of the charge in order to obtain a conviction. While the State may rely on direct and circumstantial evidence in support of its position that a person committed a crime, in most instances, the State is not permitted to introduce evidence of a person’s prior crimes or bad acts to demonstrate that the person is guilty of a current charged offense. Recently, a New Jersey appellate court discussed the prior bad acts exclusion in a case in which the State appealed the trial court’s ruling barring evidence of prior charges. If you are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest to discuss your charges with a capable New Jersey criminal defense attorney to assess what evidence the State may attempt to introduce against you.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous crimes on separate occasions. Specifically, in 2014 the defendant was charged with weapons crimes and receiving stolen property but was ultimately acquitted. The charges arose out of the seizure of a gun from a hidden compartment in the defendant’s dashboard. In 2017, the defendant was charged with numerous weapons and drug offenses, and a warrant again revealed a gun hidden in a secret compartment in the dashboard of the defendant’s car. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion asking the court to preclude evidence of the gun found in the hidden compartment as set forth in the 2014 case. The trial court granted the motion, and the State appealed.

Evidence of Prior Crimes and Bad Acts

Under New Jersey law, evidence of prior crimes, bad acts, or wrongs, is generally not admissible unless it is used to demonstrate motive, intent, preparation, opportunity, or the absence of mistake or accident when such issues are relevant to the primary issue in dispute. In other words, it is a rule of exclusion, not inclusion, and courts must exercise caution in deciding whether to admit such evidence, as it has a tendency to be prejudicial. Particularly, evidence suggesting that a defendant committed a prior crime is more likely to persuade a jury that it is probable that a defendant committed the crime with which he or she is currently charged, and a court must carefully analyze whether it should be admitted.

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In New Jersey, people charged with crimes may be able to enter into the pre-trial intervention (PTI) program rather than go through the traditional prosecution process. PTI is not available in all circumstances, however. Instead, certain factors are assessed in determining if PTI is appropriate, as discussed in a recent New Jersey case. If you are accused of committing a crime, it is prudent to speak to a knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney regarding your available options.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with multiple crimes, including unlawful possession of a knife, terroristic threats, and resisting arrest. The prosecutor that was assigned to the case offered a plea deal to the defendant that required the defendant to apply to PTI and to submit to a mental health evaluation. The defendant then applied to PTI. His application was denied, however, on the grounds that his alleged crime took place in a church, and the PTI director felt that acts that violated the sanctity of churches needed to be deterred.

It is alleged that the State then adopted the PTI director’s findings and cited other factors for the denial of PTI, such as the defendant’s inability to be monitored through PTI. The defendant appealed the denial of PTI, but his appeal was denied. He then pleaded guilty to the resisting arrest charge in exchange for the dismissal of his remaining charges. After his sentencing hearing, he appealed the trial court’s ruling regarding PTI.

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Under New Jersey law, when a person is charged with a crime, whether the person is detained or released prior to trial depends on numerous factors. Recently, a New Jersey court discussed when pre-trial detention is appropriate, in a case in which it overturned a prior ruling that a defendant charged with attempted murder should be released while his trial was pending. If you are charged with committing a criminal offense, it is advisable to consult a capable New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss your options for fighting to protect your rights.

The Alleged Crime

It is reported that the police were dispatched to the parking lot of a shopping plaza to investigate a shooting. The crowd was dispersing when the police arrived, but they saw multiple cars with bullet holes. Two people were subsequently hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Eventually, an anonymous source advised the police that on the night of the incident, he saw the defendant retrieve a gun from the trunk of his vehicle and begin shooting. Additionally, surveillance footage was obtained that showed the defendant firing a weapon in the direction of the victims.

Allegedly, the defendant was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted murder with a gun. As he had no prior criminal history, his public safety assessment score (PSA) was low. The PSA asked that the defendant be denied pre-trial release regardless, given the serious nature of his crime. The trial court departed from the PSA’s recommendation, however, and issued an order releasing the defendant.

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In New Jersey, a person can be held in contempt for failing to pay child support and may be assigned to work release to enforce compliance with the underlying support order. A person assigned to work release for failing to pay child support, who fails to return to the work-release program, cannot be charged with a crime, however, as discussed in a recent case in which the defendant appealed his conviction for escape. If you are charged with a crime due to your failure to comply with a civil order, you should contact an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss whether you may be able to have the charges dismissed as improper.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was confined to a work-release program in Bergen County Jail, due to his failure to pay child support. He failed to return to the jail by curfew on two occasions, and he was charged with the crime of escape. He pled guilty to the charges, after which he was sentenced. He subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief, arguing his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to argue that the defendant could not be charged with escape for violating work release assigned due to a civil contempt order and that his sentence was illegal.

Allegedly, the trial judge denied the defendant’s petition without a hearing, noting that the defendant entered a knowing and voluntary plea and that the defendant’s failure to return to the jail met the elements for escape under the relevant statute. The defendant then appealed.

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For a 4th Amendment violation to occur, there must be government conduct. This usually occurs through police actions. Also, some items are so public in nature that they do not carry a reasonable expectation of privacy. Generally, garbage, bank accounts, and odors emanating from your luggage are public in nature and do not implicate 4th amendment protection. If the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area and item searched, then the police need a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate supported by probable cause and particularity in order to conduct a lawful search. However, there are a few exceptions to the warrant requirement that are considered lawful searches and will not be excluded in a court of law.

The first exception to the warrant requirement is known as “Exigent Circumstances”. These scenarios occur when the police are in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon or when there is evanescent evidence: evidence that burns up in your body such as blood alcohol level or balloons filled with drugs. Another important exception to the warrant requirement is a search incident to arrest. Due to concerns for officer safety and the preservation of evidence, the law allows a search incident to arrest of the individual so long as the arrest is lawful and the search is contemporaneous in time and place with the arrest. Moreover, the search is limited in geographic scope to within the wingspan of the arrested individual. A third important warrantless search exception deals with automobiles. If the officer has probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence of a crime then they are permitted to search the entire car. A fourth exception to the warrant requirement is the famous “Plain View” doctrine. The officers must have lawful access to the place from which the item can be plainly seen, lawful access to the object itself, and the criminality of the object must be readily apparent. A fifth exception to the warrant requirement occurs when an individual consents. This consent must be voluntary, not the product of police coercion. The person must have the authority to consent to the area or item searched. A sixth exception to the warrant requirement deals with Terry stops. Under the famous Terry decision, officers have a right to stop an individual if they have reasonable suspicion necessary to determine if criminal activity is afoot. If when stopping them the officer reasonably believes that the individual is armed and dangerous, officers are permitted to frisk the individual for weapons. If you detect contraband without manipulating the object, then the officer is permitted to seize this contraband as evidence of a crime. These exceptions are the main exceptions to the warrant requirement and permit law enforcement officers to conduct lawful searches absent the existence of a warrant supported by probable cause.

The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine” is a famous evidentiary legal doctrine that has been publicized on television and in the movies. This doctrine is based upon “The Exclusionary Rule”, an important evidence doctrine that requires that the victim of an illegal search or a coerced confession can have the product of the illegality excluded from criminal prosecution. This exclusionary rule has certain limitations: 1) Impeachment: The evidence can be used for impeachment purposes even if obtained in violation of the Constitution. It can be used only to impeach the trial testimony of the defendant, not that of other witnesses; 2) The exclusionary rule does not apply to grand jury hearings, civil proceedings, or parole revocation hearings; 3) In order for the exclusionary rule to apply there has to be a federal nexus (meaning a violation of the Constitution or Federal Statute). 4) The good faith exception to the exclusionary rule (known as the Leon doctrine): Even if the evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights, if the police operated in good faith, the good faith doctrine trumps the exclusionary rule. Examples of the good faith doctrine are the police relying on a judicial opinion that is later overturned or a good faith reliance on a defective search warrant.

If the exclusionary rule applies then the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine may also apply. If the exclusionary rule is applied at trial, not only all evidence that is illegally obtained is excluded, but also all evidence derived from the illegal evidence will also be excluded as “fruit of the poisonous tree”. There are a few exceptions to this doctrine as well: 1) If the constitutional violation is a failure to give Miranda warnings then physical fruits obtained because of this failure are not excluded (known as an unwarned but voluntary statement); 2) If the authorities can “purge the taint” from the violation of a constitutional right and restore free will then the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” does not apply. This can be done in three ways: a) The Independent Source doctrine: the evidence was obtained illegally but there was another independent source to obtain the evidence constitutionally; b) The Inevitable Discovery doctrine: The police would have found the illegally obtained evidence anyway even absent the constitutional violation; c) The Attenuation doctrine: There were intervening acts between the illegality and the illegally obtained evidence that restored free will. If none of these exceptions to the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” apply, then the illegally obtained evidence will be excluded under the exclusionary rule and any evidence derived therefrom will also be excluded under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.

The right to remain silent and the right to counsel are implied rights grounded in the self-incrimination clause of the 5th amendment. The landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1966 which held that statements obtained from defendants during incommunicado interrogation in police-dominated atmosphere, without full warning of constitutional rights, were inadmissible as having been obtained in violation of Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. There are three requirements that trigger Miranda protections: 1) Custody; 2) Interrogation; 3) Testimonial. For a custody situation to occur, the standard is whether a reasonable person would not feel free to leave because of an atmosphere infused by police domination and coercion. Custodial situations can arise in a person’s home while non-custodial situations can occur at the police station; the location is not dispositive of whether or not the situation was custodial. The standard for whether or not interrogation occurred is if the officers knew or should have known that his/her conduct made it likely that the person would incriminate themselves (this standard comes from Innis). Finally, the Miranda protections do not apply to things other than testimony: lineups do not necessitate Miranda protections because they are just displaying physical characteristics.

A defendant’s Miranda rights can be waived through an express or implied waiver. This waiver must be knowing and intelligent—the defendant understood their rights and the consequences of abandoning them. The waiver must also be voluntary, free from police coercion. Also, a person can waive their rights and then change their mind and invoke their rights again. Under the Edwards doctrine, if a defendant asserts their right to counsel under the 5th amendment then there can be no further interrogation on any subject unless the defendant himself initiates. Finally, the 5th amendment is not offense specific: An assertion of your right to counsel applies to any criminal activity, not only the offense you are currently charged with.

The insanity defense is a favorite on television and in the movies in attempting to relieve criminal defendants of punishment for their acts. The test in the majority of States is known as the M’Naghten test: the standard is whether at the time of the conduct in question the defendant lacked the ability to know the wrongfulness of his actions or understand the nature and consequences of his acts; the product of their incapacity must be the product of mental disease or defect. This is a purely cognitive test. Another test used by some jurisdictions is the “irresistible impulse” rule: the standard is due to mental disease or defect the defendant lacked the capacity for self control or free choice. This is a volitional test. Finally, the Model Penal Code test, an authority in the field of criminal law, uses broader language and is both cognitive and volitional. This test requires that the defendant lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law. If the defense attorney is successful in proving one of these three tests (depending on which test the jurisdiction uses) then the defendant may be successful in asserting an insanity defense.

The recent tragedy regarding the murder of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor concerns a legal principle known as the “Felony Murder Doctrine”. In this case, there were four individuals involved in the burglary of Sean Taylor’s Florida home. These are allegedly some of the same individuals who burglarized his house eight days earlier. During the commission of the burglary (the predicate felony), one of the defendants shot Sean Taylor in the leg. Sean Taylor died as a result of this gunshot wound. According to the felony murder rule, all the participants in the underlying felony are responsible for the murder of Sean Taylor. This is a first degree murder charge even though the murder was not premeditated. Some of the predicate felonies to the felony murder doctrine are burglary, arson, rape, robbery, and kidnapping. If a murder occurs during the commission of any of these underlying crimes, all of the perpretrators involved (even if they did not do the shooting themselves) are charged with first degree murder. Therefore, in the Sean Taylor case, all four burglars are responsible for the death of Sean Taylor and will be charged with first degree murder. They are most likely facing life in prison rather than the death penalty because the shooter was a 17 year old juvenile.

On another note, how does ESPN get away with making up words as they go along? While watching Sportscenter the other night ESPN flashed a story on the bottom line saying that “the four individuals involved in the death of Sean Taylor have been charged with unpremeditated murder”. Unpremeditated? That is not a word. Something is either premeditated or it is not….unpremeditated is a double negative.

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