Appellate Court Remands Ceatta Thomas Case for Further Consideration of Mental Health in Denial of Pretrial Detention Order Appeal
Docket No. A-2006-22
Decided April 5, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided the State’s appeal from a Law Division order denying its motion for pretrial detention pursuant to the Criminal Justice Reform Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26.
Defendant is a fifty-one (51) year old woman with no prior criminal record. On January 24, 2023 at approximately 11:00 p.m. defendant engaged D.S., who lives in an apartment across the hall from the defendant, in a verbal altercation in the hallway as D.S. was leaving the building. Defendant was yelling transphobic slurs at D.S. When D.S. arrived back at the apartment, defendant renewed the altercation and grabbed D.S. by the shirt and struck them in the face. After D.S. retreated into their apartment, defendant emerged from her apartment brandishing a firearm. She then beat on the victim’s apartment door with a bat and screamed in the apartment hallway, all of which was captured on a hallway surveillance camera. D.S. eventually left the scene.
At approximately 12:09 a.m., D.S. returned accompanied by two friends, M.O. and B.W. Defendant emerged from her apartment and began yelling at M.O. and B.W. Defendant retrieved the handgun from her apartment and pointed it at M.O. and B.W. while screaming at them. M.O. called 911 after she and B.W. fled. D.S. remained at the end of the hallway while defendant continued to yell until police arrived and instructed D.S. to retreat to the stair hall. D.S. suffered a laceration above their left eye and an abrasion on their right arm as a result of the incident. Defendant was taken into custody after she barricaded herself in her apartment. Defendant was subsequently charged with bias crime with purpose to intimidate, terroristic threats, possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a firearm, aggravated assault by pointing a firearm at another, simple assault, and criminal mischief.
At defendant’s detention hearing, the State argued that defendant’s conduct is exacerbated by mental health issues and that she poses an extreme danger to the victims and to the community. The State also noted that the defendant and the victim live across the hall from each other. Defense counsel called defendant’s mother during the hearing and then advised the court that defendant could reside with her mother if released.
The trial court determined that even though the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) recommended no release based upon Graves Act charges, that the weight of the evidence against defendant was “extremely strong”, and that the risk of danger both to the present victims and to others is high, the trial court determined that the State failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that defendant should be detained pending trial and ordered defendant be released on level III pretrial monitoring with strict home detention. The court relied on defendant’s low PSA scores, lack of a new violent criminal activity flag, and lack of pending charges at the time of the incident in rendering its decision. The court further ordered defendant to have no contact with the victims, prohibited her from possessing firearms or other dangerous or destructive devices, and ordered her to undergo a mental health evaluation within twenty-one days of release. The State subsequently appealed.
On appeal, the Appellate Court of New Jersey determined that the trial court failed to adequately take into account an important relevant factor—defendant’s mental health—before ordering defendant’s release, constituting an abuse of discretion and remanded the case for further consideration and findings with respect to defendant’s mental health. The court did not believe that home confinement, without being electronically monitored addresses the risk that defendant poses to the community. On remand, the Appellate Court instructed the trial court to focus on defendant’s mental health issues and the impact her mental health condition has on the likelihood that she would have another violent outburst if released that would endanger the safety of any other person or the community.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to appealing pretrial detention orders. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.