New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Blog

Covering New Jersey and Federal Criminal Law and Procedure

Effective January 1, 2017, Missouri sex offenders guilty of 13 different sex crimes based on acts committed on or after August 28, 2006, are subject to additional security requirements.  They will be required to wear GPS monitoring devices for the rest of their lives.  This includes defendants who were sentenced before this requirement was enacted.  This raises two important issues.  First, many of these defendants resolved their cases prior to the first of this year, and this requirement was not included in their original plea arrangement or sentence.  Additionally, it makes daily functioning in the community as a convicted sex offender that much more onerous and burdensome.  Both of these issues require careful consideration.

The GPS devices at issue alert authorities if an offender “lingers” near a school or park.  When the device activates, the defendant receives directions from a state official to, for example, report immediately to a probation officer.  The devices are also waterproof, and will alert the authorities if a defendant attempts to remove it.  The new rules affect hundreds of sex offenders throughout the state.

The first problem that the implementation of this GPS monitoring technology raises is that it was not contemplated by plea deals agreed to, or sentences imposed, prior to January 1, 2017.  Defendants who resolved their cases prior to the implementation date agreed to plead guilty based upon certain stated terms and conditions, all of which were presumably included in the records of their cases.  At sentencing, the court imposed certain terms and conditions of supervision with which they had to comply prospectively.  They were presumably advised by competent counsel, received notice of all of the requirements of community supervision, and consented to them in connection with the disposition of their cases.  In short, they knew the deal, and consented to it.  Now, after the fact, the rules are being changed with the addition of new, burdensome requirements that are apparently permanent.  How the terms and conditions of a plea arrangement or sentence can be so altered with no discussion or debate runs roughshod over basic concepts of due process, as well as fairness and decency. Continue reading

Jeff Sessions, our new Attorney General, issued a Memorandum to all United States Attorneys on May 10, 2017 which states, in relevant part, that “it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense [] By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

This Memorandum represents a significant departure (no pun intended) from the bipartisan support for overhauling the federal criminal justice system that had been intensifying in Congress over the last few years.  It also reflects President Trump’s campaign promise to get tough on crime.  The general targets of the new policy include narcotics and weapons offenses, and gang violence.

The problem with this Memorandum is that it also reflects a reversal of some of the more intelligent decisions made during the Obama administration concerning the federal criminal justice system, specifically, the treatment of low-level, non-violent drug offenders.  For example, former Attorney General Eric Holder instructed federal prosecutors to consider the unique facts and circumstances of a particular case, and to exercise discretion in charging narcotics offenses.  Significantly, in narcotics cases involving non-violent defendants with minimal criminal histories and no connection to organized crime, Holder instructed US Attorneys to omit information concerning drug quantities from charging documents, thereby avoiding the automatic trigger of harsh penalties.  Mr. Sessions’ Memorandum references Mr. Holder’s prior instructions in a footnote, and rescinds them. Continue reading

Dr. Salomon Melgen, a soon-to-be former ophthalmologist, who still faces criminal charges for bribing New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, was recently found guilty of healthcare claims fraud following a seven-week jury trial.  His case is significant because it highlights some of the activities that typically cause medical service providers to becomes investigative targets and, ultimately, criminal defendants in serious healthcare claims fraud cases that can result in the loss of a professional license, an entire medical practice, and jail time.

Briefly, Melgen was charged in a 67-count federal indictment with fraud, falsifying medical records and submitting fictitious claims to Medicare.  Federal prosecutors alleged that between 2008 and 2013, he billed more than $190 million to Medicare, which paid him approximately $105 million.  According to the Government, the vast majority of his billings were based upon false and/or fictitious diagnoses, unjustified medical procedures, and repeated billings for unnecessary diagnostic tests.

The Government alleged that Melgen falsely diagnosed patients with a condition known as wet macular degeneration, which could cause blindness.   He then treated them with laser treatments that were both outdated and harmful, as well as injections of an expensive ocular drug, all with the goal of lining his pockets.  The Government’s medical experts characterized Melgen’s patient notes as “pure fantasy”, and testified that his basis for administering treatments was fabricated.  They stated that he treated patients whose maculae appeared normal, that his laser treatments were both inappropriate and harmful, and that there were other treatments available for this condition that posed less patient risk.  (One expert testified concerning Melgen’s use of a laser on a patient with only one functioning eye, calling it “unconscionable”.)  Other experts testified that Melgen’s Medicare billings were “in the next galaxy”. Continue reading

In State v. Robinson, decided on May 1, 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered the extent to which the “protective sweep” doctrine, which is an exception to the warrant requirement, applies to a police search of the passenger compartment of a vehicle during a traffic stop.  In Robinson, an officer observed a vehicle driving in a manner he considered unsafe in an area known for drug activity.  He stopped the vehicle, which contained four occupants, and asked the driver for his license and registration.  The driver, Robinson, misidentified himself, told the officer that his license was suspended, but provided proof of insurance and a registration.  One of the other occupants, Henderson, misidentified himself as the Robinson.  The remaining occupants correctly identified themselves and produced ID cards.  The driver stated his friend owned the vehicle, but did not know his name.  The officer learned from his dispatcher that the driver had an outstanding warrant and was known to carry weapons, and that Henderson had a “caution for weapons”.  The officer called for backup, and other officers arrived.  Defendant and Henderson were removed from the vehicle, arrested, and handcuffed.  Both were searched, but neither had weapons.  Some of the officers now present watched the defendant and Henderson , both of whom stood on the roadside and could not return to the car.  The other two occupants were detained, but not arrested.  One of them left her purse on the front passenger seat.  An officer then conducted a sweep of the car’s interior to check for weapons, at which time he touched the bottom of the purse and detected the outline of a gun.  He retrieved the gun, brought it to his vehicle, and told the other officers to arrest the remaining two occupants.  Defendant pleaded guilty, but later moved to suppress the gun.  The trial court denied his motion, but a majority of the Appellate Division panel found that the officer’s search of the car was not a lawful protective sweep.  One judge dissented.

The Supreme Court found that the surrounding circumstances created a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contained a weapon, but the five officers present at the scene acted in a manner that eliminated the risk that any of the four occupants could immediately access a weapon.  Thus the protective sweep exception to the warrant requirement could not be used to salvage the search.

In discussing this conclusion in depth, the Court observed that warrantless searches are permissible only if they fall within one of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.  The protective sweep exception, which derives from Terry v. Ohio, held that police may conduct an investigatory stop if there are “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inference from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”  The Court also noted that Terry stops are narrowly tailored to allow a reasonable search for weapons.  Further, the United States Supreme Court applied the protective sweep exception to a vehicle in Michigan v. Long, and New Jersey adopted that standard in State v. Lund.  The standard was discussed further in State v. Gamble.  Taken together, Long, Lund and Gamble therefore set the standard for a valid protective sweep of a vehicle that has been stopped.  To justify such a search, the State must present specific and articulable facts that, when taken with the rational inferences from those facts, justify a belief that someone in the car is dangerous and may have immediate access to a weapon.  Protective sweeps of vehicles cannot be justified by the potential presence of a weapon; rather, the doctrine turns on imminent danger to the police when someone has access to a vehicle that may hold a weapon, or may be able to overpower or evade officers at the scene. Continue reading

New Jersey has among the most liberal criminal discovery rules in the country.  The State is obligated to provide defense counsel with a substantial body of material early in the case.  This is unlike many – if not most – other jurisdictions.  For example, in the federal system, significant amounts of discovery typically appear shortly before trial, leaving defense counsel with little time to review, analyze and investigate its content.  In New York County, the only discovery defense counsel may receive early in the case is a “People’s Voluntary Disclosure Statement”, which is a set of form questions that have been drafted and answered by the District Attorney’s Office.  (Basically useless.)  Not so in New Jersey – Here, defense counsel receives significant discovery up front, often without making a formal request.

What are defense counsel’s discovery obligations to the State?  They are obviously different because defense counsel has to be concerned with their client’s right to remain silent, protection of work product, and the fact that the State – not the defense – has the burden of proof.  In State v. Tier, decided May 2, 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified defense counsel’s post-indictment reciprocal discovery obligations concerning the oral statements of defense witnesses.  As the Court noted, this was an issue of first impression in New Jersey.

The facts are not complex.  Neighbors contacted the police because they believed that CL was having a physical altercation with her boyfriend, Tier.  The officers approached the house and heard a woman scream “Help, he’s trying to kill me.”  They kicked in the door and saw Tier on top of CL, strangling her.  A grand jury indicted Tier for kidnapping and attempted murder. Continue reading

In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. _____, the United States Supreme Court held, among other things, that states cannot execute someone who is mentally disabled.  The Court also left to the states the task of determining whether a death row inmate has a mental disability that could prevent their execution.  Moore v. Texas, 581 U.S. _____ (2017), decided on March 28, 2017, clarifies this aspect of Atkins and Hall.  Briefly, in Moore, the Court held that state courts must utilize established diagnostic criteria when ascertaining whether a death row inmate has a mental disability.  In reaffirming its prior holdings that executing someone with a mental disability is unconstitutional, the Court noted that even mild mental or intellectual disabilities are disabilities, and states cannot execute anyone within the entire category of intellectually disabled offenders.

In 1980, Moore and two others robbed a supermarket in Houston.  At the supermarket, Moore and the others approached a courtesy booth that held two employees.  One of them realized that a robbery was taking place and started to scream.  Moore shot her in the head and killed her.  He fled, was arrested after 10 days, charged with capital murder, tried and sentenced to death by a jury.  Moore’s appeals spanned the next three decades.  In 2014, after a two-day hearing, a state habeas court concluded that Moore had an intellectual disability.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”), the final arbiter of habeas petitions in that state, rejected this conclusion and held its own hearing.    The CCA applied the criteria set forth in a 2004 Texas case, Ex Parte Briseno, which are as follows:

  • Did those who knew the defendant well during his developmental stages (family, friends, educators, employers, and other authorities), believe he was mentally retarded, and act in accordance with that assessment;
  • Has the defendant formulated and carried out plans, or is their conduct impulsive;
  • Does the defendant’s conduct indicate that they are a “leader” or “follower”;
  • Are the defendant’s responses to external stimuli rational and appropriate;
  • Are the defendant’s responses to oral or written questions on point, or does s/he wander from one subject to the next;
  • Can the defendant lie effectively; and
  • Did the underlying offense require planning, forethought and complex execution?

Continue reading

A right to a jury trial for major criminal offenses and the jury as an institution are at the center of the Anglo-American criminal justice system.  Most of a jury’s tasks are performed secretly.  This is done intentionally so as to protect the integrity of the deliberative process and encourage open and frank discussions between and among jurors.  When the verdict comes in, the only people who really know the full extent of what happened in the jury room are the jurors, themselves.  This is intentional – particularly in New Jersey where the state courts go to great lengths to protect the secrecy of jury deliberations.

In Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the United States Supreme Court recently held that the secrecy of jury deliberations may be breached in order to investigate racially biased statements that a juror made about a defendant.  The defendant was convicted of groping two teenage girls in a bathroom at a Colorado racetrack where he was employed.  He denied the charges claiming mistaken identity, and called alibi witnesses at trial.  His jury acquitted him of a felony, but convicted him of misdemeanors.  The trial court sentenced him to a term of probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender.

After trial, two jurors told defense counsel that another juror made comments about Mexicans during deliberations.  He informed his fellow jurors that he was a former law enforcement officer who had seen many cases like this one.  He referred to the defendant as an “illegal” (untrue – the defendant was a legal resident), and also stated that “nine times out of ten Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls.” Continue reading

We have commented previously upon Megan’s Law and Community Supervision for Life (“CSL”), now known as Parole Supervision for Life (“PSL”).  The two ongoing problems with the regime that these laws create for the supervision of sex offenders still exist.  First, there is little, if any, empirical evidence that the laws accomplish anything positive, which is particularly troublesome in light of the substantial administrative costs they generate, which are borne by the taxpayers.  Further, these laws are fundamentally unfair.  They stem from a belief that the best way to manage sex offenders is to have them live in the community subject to terms and conditions of supervision.  However, at the same time, many of the terms and conditions pursuant to which they must conduct themselves are so burdensome that they make life incredibly difficult, and the parole officers who supervise them frequently act in a manner that can only be described as sadistic.  The end result is that parolees are whipsawed – they are directed to live in the community, but their daily lives are made almost impossible by unreasonable restrictions and abusive parole officers.

We can all agree that Internet access is a staple of modern life.  Imagine life with restricted Internet use or, worse, a complete ban.  Internet usage by sex offenders is frequently regulated by the terms and conditions of their parole supervision.  In many cases, those restrictions go far beyond what is necessary to manage a parolee’s conduct in a way that ostensibly protects the community and satisfies other necessary goals.  On March 21, 2017, our Supreme Court decided JI v. New Jersey State Parole Board, which addresses this problem.  The JI Court considered two issues: whether a total ban on a parolee’s internet usage is so overbroad that it serves no meaningful purpose, and whether the parole board must grant the parolee a hearing to challenge those restrictions.

JI, a sex offender, was sentenced to, among other things, CSL in 2003.  Upon release from custody in 2009, the parole board prohibited him from accessing social networking sites or chat rooms.  In 2010, it was discovered that he had visited websites that depicted child pornography.  He was not charged with violating his parole, but his sex offender treatment provider opined that the viewing of this material would not further his rehabilitation.  The board then prohibited him from using any device that could access the Internet.  Later in 2010, he was arrested for possessing a phone with which he accessed the Internet, and a board panel found him guilty of violating his terms and conditions of supervision.  He was imprisoned in 2011, and released in 2012. Continue reading

The most onerous part of the sentence in most, if not all, DWI cases is the license suspension.  The suspension can range from seven months for a first offense to 10 years for a third offense.  Because so much of New Jersey life revolves around the ability to drive, virtually every DWI client focuses first and foremost on the loss of their driving privileges.  Many DWI defendants choose to appeal their conviction and sentence, and trial counsel can ask the sentencing court to stay the sentence, including the license suspension, pending appeal.  In State v. Robertson, decided March 8, 2017, our Supreme Court addressed the standard for a stay pending appeal at two stages.  The first is a stay pending appeal from the municipal court to the Law Division of the Superior Court for a trial de novo.  The second is a stay pending appeal from a trial de novo in the Superior Court, Law Division, to the Appellate Division.

Robertson had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .13.  He was convicted of a first offense DWI and, as part of his sentence, his license was suspended for seven months.  The municipal court stayed the license suspension for 20 days to allow Robertson time to commence an appeal.  After the trial de novo in the Law Division, the court found the defendant guilty and imposed the same sentence.  Defense counsel sought to continue the stay of the license suspension pending further appeal, but the State opposed the request.  The Law Division judge granted the application, providing the defendant filed his appeal with 10 days.

On further appeal, the Appellate Division observed that both of the lower courts stayed the license suspension pending appeal “without providing any statement of reasons.”  The Court sought guidance for the standard for a stay in a DWI case in existing case law, stating that if a stay is granted, driving may be limited to such activities as employment, or conditioned upon the installation of an ignition interlock device among restrictions.  The Supreme Court granted defendant’s petition for certification so as to address an issue of significant public importance concerning the standards for a stay of sentence in a DWI case. Continue reading

The New Jersey Supreme Court decided State v. Joe on March 7, 2017.  The case is significant because it relates to the issue of jail credit, which is an important issue in any case where the sentence includes the imposition of a custodial term.

Briefly, the two types of credit that arise most frequently in criminal cases are jail credit and gap credit.  By way of example, a defendant who has a single set of charges that are brought in a single indictment will be entitled to credit for any time spent in custody on those charges while the case is being resolved.  This type of credit is generally referred to as jail credit.  If the defendant is ultimately sentenced to a custodial term of five years with a three-year parole disqualifier, the jail credit will count against the three years, and the defendant will become parole eligible that much sooner.  Jail credit is not to be confused with gap credit.  Gap credit results when a defendant who has already been sentenced to a custodial term is subsequently sentenced again for different offenses committed before the earlier sentence.  Here, the defendant receives credit at the second sentence for the portion of the term of imprisonment already served on the prior sentence.  Whereas jail credit goes against the “bottom number” or parole ineligibility period, gap credit goes against the “top” or outside number.  Jail credit is generally viewed as more valuable because it effectively brings a defendant closer to parole.  (Anyone who seems confused by this brief explanation should not feel bad – credits are one of the most confusing subjects in New Jersey criminal procedure.)

In Joe, the defendant was arrested for drug offenses, but fled New Jersey.  The court issued a bench warrant for his arrest.  Joe was later arrested and charged with other offenses in New York State, and remained in custody on the New York charges from his arrest through sentencing, which was on February 13, 2012.  New Jersey filed an interstate detainer with New York on August 12, 2011, but Joe was not transferred to New Jersey until he was sentenced on the New York charges.  Joe resolved his New Jersey case by way of plea, and then requested jail credit for the time spent in pre-sentence custody in New York.  The sentencing court denied this request. Continue reading