Monday, January 27, 2014

Why Innocent Defendants Take Plea Bargains?

This is blog is presented as a public service and for general criminal legal information by the Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.

277 North Broad Street
P.O. Box 261
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Telephone No. (908) 354-7006; Cell No. (201) 240-5716

It is without dispute that the State may not exert an unnecessary price for defendants that exercise their constitutional right to a jury trial.  United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570 (1968); Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967); Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, (1965)

That is the law, but the reality is that innocent defendants, both in State and Federal court often take a plea for something that he or she did not do, just to avoid losing at trial and doing double or triple the jail time after conviction.  Although legally the trial sentencing cannot impose a “trial tax”, upon the defendant after conviction, the reality of the situation is that with the draconian sentencing laws and guidelines, such as discretionary or mandatory extended terms, parole ineligibility, consecutive sentences, etc., defendants who refuse plea offers and lose at trial in most cases go to jail for a very long time.  The pressure to take a plea is so strong that very few defendants, whether innocent or guilty, will take the risk at losing at trial.  The cards are stacked against the defendant to such a large degree that taking a plea is the only option. 

The prosecutors in criminal cases have all the cards; they deal them as they choose.  They make the final decisions, they offer the pleas, and sometimes they are given on a take it or leave it basis.  They know their power and they use it to extract pleas.  Even judges sometimes are frustrated with the position that the prosecutors take, but they are powerless and cannot force to the prosecutor to be reasonable.  Often many good judges will attempt to 
appeal to the sensibilities and to the notion of fairness with the prosecutor, but those attempts are often futile.  Because the separations of powers, the executive and judicial branch are co-equals and neither branch can interfere with the other, most of the time the judge must remain silent.  Not to say that there are not some good prosecutors who attempt to do the right thing; however, in most cases prosecutors get their instructions from a chain of command, such as trial supervisors, reviewing committees etc.

Plea bargains it is argued, keeps the system alive because without plea bargains the judicial system could not function.  Because 95% of the criminal cases result in plea bargains and the system could not survive without the plea bargain system, plea bargains are a necessary evil which is necessary for the system to work.   This is true at the lower level, and begs the question.  The real question is who is controlling the plea bargain system, and why do the prosecutor’s have all the cards.  Why not equally penalize the prosecutor office if they lose at trial, in the form of a monetary settlement to the acquitted defendant or at lease a payment of his or her attorney fees.  As the system stands now the prosecutors have zero downside and all the upside.  If there was a penalty imposed when the prosecutor lost a case they would be more careful in pursuing only the meritorious cases and offering plea agreements that were fair. 

As it stands now every legislative body in ever State is making it more and more difficult for sentencing judges.  Every politician that wants to be reelected wants to pander to the public that he or she is hard on crime.  There is no end in sight.  Let’s be fair, and make the constitution work for all, even the criminally accused. 

Nobody knows when the table will be turned on them, and be unjustly accused of a crime.  Did Governor Christie or Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno ever thing just a few months ago that they would be accused of something, if true, would be the criminal charge of official misconduct?

Quote of the Day:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Jersey Supreme Court Clarifies Expungement Laws Regarding Juvenile Convictions, Making It Easier for Adults to Obtain an Expungement of their Adult Convictions.

In another great decision by the esteemed New Jersey Supreme Court In the Matter of the Expungement Application of D.J.B., our highest court held that two juvenile convictions plus one adult conviction, plus two disorderly person’s offenses, equals the expungement of all the disorderly persons and adult convictions.  Because juvenile records are sealed those records are automatically sealed and unavailable to the public. 

This ruling will now make it possible for people with one adult conviction of a crime, and up-to two municipal court disorderly person’s convictions, to obtain an expungement of their adult conviction, even if they have multiple juvenile convictions.

If you are in need for an expungement you are urged to contact the Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., who has 23-years of helping people obtain an expungement of their criminal records and obtain a fresh start with their life.  Today, people with adult criminal conviction are often precluded from obtaining lawful gainful employment, because the vast majority of employers will not offer employment with anyone with a criminal record, regardless of the age of the conviction, or type of conviction.  Retaining an experienced New Jersey expungement attorney is your first step in obtaining an expungement.  Further, be careful and be sure that you are eligible for the expungement before you pay the attorney for the fee for the expungment. 

P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth, N.J. 07207
(908) 354-7006

NJ Expungement Attorneys, Union, Essex, Hudson, Elizabeth New Jersey Criminal Law Defense Attorney, Union County Criminal Law Attorney, Essex County Criminal Law Attorney, Hudson County Criminal Law Attorney, Middlesex  County Criminal Law Defense Attorney

January 22, 2014

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules Prosecutor’s Cannot Dirty Up Defendants Who Have Aliases and Testify at Trial.

In another good ruling the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that prosecutor’s cannot impeach a defendant on cross-examine with their prior use of aliases.

The Court made this ruling in the case State v. Parker which was decided last week.  In Parker the defendant took the stand and the prosecutor questioned him regarding his use of two different names. 

The State argued that it could be used as extrinsic evidence to impeach the defendant under evidence rule 607. 

At trial the prosecutor argued that the fact that the defendant used aliases showed that the defendant’s testimony was false and that he was not innocent of the charges for which he was on trial for.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument, overturning the appellate division decision which affirmed the conviction.  The esteemed Court held that  the use of such evidence is strictly prohibited under evidence rules 405(a) and 608.

The Court did however rule that if the defendant had used aliases in connection with a crime such as identity fraud or to evade prosecution than such prior use of aliases might be admissible.

This is a good ruling on many levels since many indictments will include a/k/a which put the defendant in a bad light.  Although many judges will exclude such information when reading the indictment to the jury, other judges do not.  Further,many people are given aliases or "a/k/a" through no fault of their own, such as police mistakes, marriage, divorce, and errors in reporting through credit reporting agencies, etc.

P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth, N.J. 07207
(908) 354-7006

Elizabeth New Jersey Criminal Law Defense Attorney, Union County Criminal Law Attorney, Essex County Criminal Law Attorney, Hudson County Criminal Law Attorney, Middlesex  County Criminal Law Defense Attorney

January 22, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

In Opening and Closing Statements the Prosecutor Must Stick to the Facts of the Case and Not Attempt to Sway the Jury with Prejudicial Comments.

Prepared as a Public Service by the N.J. Criminal Defense Law Office

In State v. Raiford, a Middlesex County assistant prosecutor became overly zealous and over stepped his boundary when in his opening statement claimed that he spoke for the community and that the defendant was a threat to the community.  Anytime a prosecutor attempts to interject prejudice by claiming that he is more than an attorney for State he is overstepping his boundaries.

In the armed-robbery prosecution the assistant prosecutor attempted to link himself with the people of the community and that the defendant was outside that community.  The appellate division held that such comments by the assistant prosecutor warranted a new trial and vacating Mr. Raiford’s first-degree robbery conviction.  Further, the appellate court held that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that the comments be stricken from the record and be totally disregarded by them.
In all criminal trials defense counsel should be aware of the subtle inferences that prosecutor’s make in the attempt to make the defendant look guilty. 
Question:  I always wonder why does court always allow the prosecutor’s table to be next to the jury box, and the defense table on the other side of the courtroom.  Isn’t this a subtle inference to the jury that it is we the prosecutor and the jury against the defense counsel and his client?  If they have the burden of proof why do they get to sit next to the jury and we the defense have to sit far away?

PO Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth, N.J. 07207

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Governor Signs New Law Increasing Monetary Compensation of Person’s Unjustly Convicted and Imprisoned.

Prepared by the Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., as a public service to the People.

Under N.J.S.A. 52:4C, a defendant who was unjustly convicted and served time in prison is now entitled to recover twice his or her annual salary, or $50,000.00 per year, which ever is greater, for each year unjustly incarcerated in prison.  In a lawsuit for wrongful conviction the law suit must be filed against the Department of Treasury.

However, the new law prohibits anyone from recovering any money if he or she pleas guilty to the crime in which he or she is imprisoned.  This twist in the new law will in effect eliminate payments to unjustly convicted defendants, because in New Jersey many innocent defendants take pleas to avoid lengthy prison sentences if convicted after a jury trial.  This is true because pleas to lesser included sentences sometimes eliminate draconian sentences and force innocent defendants to take pleas.  Unlike New York, New Jersey will almost never outright dismiss a criminal case.  In New Jersey prosecutors will extract some sort of plea, even if it means pleading to a disorderly person’s offense.  This new law will only promote the extraction of guilty pleas from innocent defendants.

Therefore, overall the change in the law will actual limit State liability, and gives no incentive for prosecutors to help insure that innocent people are not unjustly convicted and sent to prison for crimes they have not committed.  Therefore, the new law will make fewer defendants eligible for payments.

P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth, N.J. 07207
(908) 354-7006
Dated: December 31, 2013

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