Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Jersey Supreme Court Affirms Right of Defense Counsel To Examine Alleged Crime Scene

On September 24, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State in the Interest of A.B., affirmed the trial court in allowing defense counsel to examine and take photographs of the victim’s home where it was alleged that a sexual assault occurred.

The Supreme Court affirmed that a criminal defendant has a right to a fair trial and that defense counsel has the right to inspect and examine all the evidence which the State has access to.  In other words, New Jersey courts have the “inherent power to order discovery when justice so requires.”  State ex rel. W.C., 85 N.J. 218, 221 (1981)

The court began its discussion with the proposition that New Jersey trial courts have the power to order discovery beyond that mandated by the court rules when doing so will further the truth-seeking function or ensure the fairness of a trial. In the Matter of W.C., 85 N.J. at 221. In
exercising its discretion, a court must weigh the accused’s need for a particular species of discovery against the impact the discovery request may have on the privacy and lives of witnesses and alleged victims.

As the court noted, a criminal trial where the defendant
does not have “access to the raw materials integral to the
building of an effective defense” is fundamentally unfair. Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 77, 105 S. Ct. 1087, 1093, 84 L. Ed. 2d 53, 62 (1985).

In fact the court noted that visiting the crime scene can be critical in preparing a defense and that failure to visit the crime scene when required can be ineffective assistance of counsel. Thomas v. Kuhlman, 255 F. Supp. 2d 99, 109, 112 (E.D.N.Y. 2003)  See, also, 32 New Jersey Practice, Criminal Practice and Procedure § 20:1, at 481 (Leonard N. Arnold) (2010-2011 ed.)

The court noted that familiarity with a crime scene may be essential for an effective direct or cross-examination of a witness.  Further, it might be helpful in ascertaining
and presenting exculpatory evidence. For example, the inability of a witness to have observed an event because of the layout of the area can break a case.  In order words,
in many instances the defense will not be on an equal footing with the prosecution if it is barred from a crime scene to which the prosecutor has access.

In summary this is a great case for the defense, is a case which was long overdue by the court and this case should be in the arsenal of all competent New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys.

September 25, 2014

277 North Broad Street
P.O. Box 261
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Telephone No. (908) 354-7006

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