Denial of An Adjournment Request to Postpone A Homicide Trial, Leading to Defendant Entering A Plea Deal
Appellate Docket No.: A-3519-18T1
Decided December 8, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed a trial court’s denial of an adjournment request to postpone a homicide trial, leading to defendant entering a plea deal,
In State v. Marsh, on November 29, 2015, defendant and three cohorts robbed a stranger at gunpoint in Pleasantville. Defendant brandished a handgun and stole money from the man. Later that day in the same town, defendant and those companions kidnapped another man for ransom payable in drugs. Defendant shot that man in “[h]is shoulder and his head” with the same weapon he used against the first victim.
In April 2016, defendant and his co-defendants were charged in Atlantic County Indictment No. 16-07-1666, regarding the homicide incident, as follows: first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3) (count one); first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2) (count two); first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count three); first-degree kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C-13-1(a) (count four); second-degree conspiracy to commit kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count five); second-degree possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count six); second degree conspiracy to possess a handgun for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:5- 2 (count seven); second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count eight); second-degree conspiracy to commit unlawful possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count nine); and second-degree certain persons not to have weapons, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b) (count ten).
In mid-afternoon on Friday, January 4, 2019, defendant moved to adjourn the January 7, 2019 homicide trial to another unspecified date. The reasons provided by counsel was that defendant may have been involved in another homicide and there was a possibility of a “30 do 30”.
Trial counsel’s adjournment request was based upon his inability to prepare for trial between December 14, 2018 and January 4, 2019. In that regard, counsel certified: “Upon informing [defendant] of this complete 180 [-]degree change in direction, the undersigned as well as [defendant] feel that, especially in light of the holiday season, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to properly prepare for a [t]rial where [defendant] is facing [l]ife [imprisonment] plus in [s]tate [p]rison.” Counsel also asserted defendant did “not feel that he [wa]s properly prepared for a [t]rial, that he was acting under the belief that a global resolution was going to be attempted to be worked out, and that for the State to pull the deal at the last minute is unfair to him and his [d]efense counsel, giving them three weeks to prepare for a [t]rial wherein . . . [d]efendant is facing life plus in prison.”
Trial counsel also cited his secretary’s family-sick leave, which was taken “within the last [two] weeks” straddling counsel with “the administrative aspects of preparing for trial.” Accordingly, counsel requested “another date” for trial so that he and defendant would have an “adequate amount of time to prepare, especially in light of the fact that the delay was not [defendant’s] fault . . . .”
The trial court denied defendant’s motion, noting the age of the case, prior adjournments, and the insufficient reasons for the request. After defendant’s plea, he appealed the denial of the adjournment request.
The Appellate Division found the trial court had adequately analyzed the factors outlined in Hayes, and affirmed the decision.
A decision to adjourn proceedings largely rests with the trial court. Only when the trial court was “clearly unreasonable” can a decision to deny an adjournment be overturned. The factors trial courts are to consider for adjournment requests, as outlined in Hayes, include the length of the requested delay; whether other continuances have been requested and granted; the balanced convenience or inconvenience to the litigants, witnesses, counsel, and the court; whether the requested delay is for legitimate reasons, or whether it is dilatory, purposeful, or contrived; whether the defendant contributed to the circumstance which gives rise to the request for a continuance; whether the defendant has other competent counsel prepared to try the case, including the consideration of whether the other counsel was retained as lead or associate counsel; whether denying the continuance will result in identifiable prejudice to defendant’s case, and if so, whether this prejudice is of a material or substantial nature; the complexity of the case; and other relevant factors which may appear in the context of any particular case.
Your attorney should be prepared well before proceeding to trial! Do not leave your case to chance with an ill prepared attorney. Contact the experienced attorneys at Hark & Hark today. 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 county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.