Cofield Test: Four-Part Test for Extrinsic Evidence Being Introduced

State v. Palao

Appellate Docket No.: A-4422-16T4

Decided October 27, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Sex Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed whether the trial court appropriately allowed defendant’s prior bad acts to be admitted in a case of sexual abuse against minors.

In State v. Palao, a Passaic County Grand Jury returned a six-count indictment charging defendant Raelito Palao with second degree sexual assault of A.E. (Abigail), a child under the age of thirteen, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2b (Count 1); third degree endangering the welfare of a child – Abigail and V.M. (Valerie), N.J.S.A. 2C:24- 4a, (Counts 2 and 6); fourth degree criminal sexual contact of K.D. (Kenzie) and Valerie, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3b, (Counts 3 and 5); and second degree endangering the welfare of a child – Kenzie, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a (Count 4).1

The defendant was accused of molesting three girls while they were underage.  Each of the girls knew the defendant through a church group. Each of the girls testified their families were close to the defendant and they trusted him like an uncle.  Each of the girls alleged they were molested multiple times at young ages.  The girls did not initially disclose the events until years later.

During trial, a witness who was not one of three victims testified that defendant purchased underwear for her from Victoria’s Secret and the State moved to admit that actual item in as evidence.  Defendant objected but the trial court overruled the objection.  Defendant was found guilty and appealed.

The Appellate division found that to assess whether this additional evidence should be used, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued a four part test for extrinsic evidence being introduced:

  1. The evidence of the other crime must be admissible as relevant to a material issue;
  2. It must be similar in kind and reasonably close in time to the offense charged;
  3. The evidence of the other crime must be clear and convincing; and
  4. The probative value of the evidence must not be outweighed by its apparent prejudice.

State v. Cofield, 127 N.J. 328, 338 (1992).

If the Cofield test is met, the trial court must give limiting instructions to the jury to ensure proper application of the prior bad act evidence.  The Appellate Division found that the trial court properly allowed the witness testimony and admission of the underwear into evidence, as the woman was a minor at the time, and it revealed defendant’s state of mind with respect to teenage girls.

The Appellate Division found the trial court properly applied the Cofield factors to allow joinder of the offenses of the three separate victims.

If you have been charged with any first degree crime, second degree crime, third degree crime, fourth degree crime, disorderly persons offense, municipal ordinance violation, or traffic ticket / DUI/DWI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Specifically, if you have been convicted for a sex offense and prior bad acts were used in trial against you, you may have grounds for relief.  Failing to hire a defense attorney and putting your faith in a public defender could give you adverse consequences to your case.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for criminal matters 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 immediately. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any town in New Jersey including Booton, Butler, Chatham, Chester, Denville, Dover, East Hanover, Florham Park, Hanover, Harding, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Lincoln Park, Long Hill, Madison, Mendham, Mine Hill, Montville, Morris, Morris Plains, Morristown, Mount Arlington, Mount Olive, Mountain Lakes, Netcong, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Pequannock, Randolph, Riverdale, Rockaway, Roxbury, Victory Gardens, Washington, and Wharton.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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