Bite Mark Evidence Admissibility and Post-Conviction Relief | State v. Fortin

State v. Fortin

Appellate Docket No.: A-5929-17T2

Decided and approved for publication June 22, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a published opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed a motion for post-conviction relief based on newly found evidence regarding the reliability of bitemark evidence following a sentence of life without parole.

In State v. Brown, defendant was indicted for first-degree knowing or purposeful murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2); first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3); first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; first-degree murder while committing a sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3); and first degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a). The State sought the death penalty.

Prior to defendant’s first trial for murder and sexual assault,  the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed, in an interlocutory appeal, the ruling allowing the State to introduce N.J.R.E. 404(b) evidence that defendant had committed a similar sexual assault against based on the unusual combination of bitemarks.  The Court also found that the State could use an expert to show the unusual patterns of bitemarks from prior victims.

In 2000, a jury convicted the defendant and sentenced him to death.  The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the expert the State offered failed to produce a reliable database.

In 2007, defendant was retried and convicted of murder, felony murder, and two counts of aggravated sexual assault.  At the time of conviction, the death penalty was abolished in New Jersey. Defendant was sentenced to life without parole.

Defendant made a motion for post-conviction relief arguing for a new trial based on newly discovered scientific evidence regarding the reliability of bitemark evidence.  The trial court denied Defendant’s request for a new trial.  Defendant appealed.

The Appellate Division found that the “newly discovered evidence” was not actually newly discovered, as much of the updated guidelines on bitemarks was available during defendant’s retrial.  Furthermore, the Appellate Division affirmed that bitemark evidence is admissible in New Jersey.

Successful motions for post-conviction relief are very difficult to bring.  There are very specific requirements for a court to overturn a criminal conviction.  One of these avenues is newly discovered evidence that was not available at the time of trial.

If you believe you have grounds for post-conviction relief after a criminal conviction, contact an experience criminal defense attorney today. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for criminal matters and appeals like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to ensure prosecutors, police, and even judges follow the law.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing criminal charges similar to this circumstance, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any town in New Jersey including East Windsor Township, Ewing Township, Hamilton Township, Borough of Hightstown, Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Borough of Pennington, Princeton, Robbinsville Township, City of Trenton, and West Windsor Township.


Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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