On February 7, 2013, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided the case State v. Gibson (Docket No. A-5163-10T2) and found that the municipal court erred by relying on evidence from a suppression hearing during defendant’s trial on the merits. By doing this, the defendant was denied his due process rights.
Posted by: New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffery Hark
The defendant, Bruno Gibson, was arrested by Winslow Township Police for DUI on November 17, 2007. The defendant’s suppression hearing was conducted on May 26, 2010 in municipal court. At the suppression hearing, the defendant argued that police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop his motor vehicle and also lacked probable cause to arrest him for DUI. The municipal court judge heard testimony from the arresting officer that he pulled the defendant over because he was speeding and failed to use his turn signal. Also, the officer stated that he detected an alcoholic odor and that defendant admitted to drinking. The officer then explained that the defendant was ordered to submit to field sobriety testing and that he performed poorly on the one legged stand and walk and turn test. The suppression hearing continued on October 27, 2010 and the defense introduced video footage of the stop to refute the officer’s testimony. The municipal court then determined that the officers had probable cause to stop and arrest the defendant. After that, the municipal court judge proceeded to conduct defendant’s trial on the merits. The municipal prosecutor explained to the judge that they did not have access to defendant’s blood reading and that they would rely on the officer’s observations. The defense counsel then moved to dismiss due to the absence of evidence. The municipal court found defendant guilty of DUI and failing to signal. The municipal judge relied on defendant’s performance on the two field sobriety tests and his post arrest demeanor and behavior.
The defendant then appealed his conviction and the Law Division conducted a de novo trial. The Law Division judge distinguished State v. Allan, 283 N.J. Super. 622 (Law Div. 1995) (which held that a municipal court should not rely on the suppression hearing in trial on the merits unless defendant receives notice and consents) from the defendant’s case. The Law Division Judge found that defendant did not object to a trial based on evidence at the suppression hearing and also failed to show how he was prejudiced by the municipal court procedures. Based on this, the Law Division did not change defendant’s municipal court sentence.
The defendant then appealed to the Appellate Division. The defendant argued that the State never proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt specifically because the state presented no evidence at trial and even if the evidence at the probable cause hearing is deemed to be admissible at trial, the State did not have enough to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Appellate Court specifically discussed the Law Division’s findings and explained that the defendant did in fact object to the use of suppression hearing evidence because defense counsel moved to dismiss the charges. The Appellate Court then went into detail about how a suppression hearing is distinctly different from a trial on the merits. Specially, since the trial on the merits determines a defendant’s guilt and in contrast the suppression hearing determines if evidence is admissible based on the lawfulness of police conduct. Also, the standard of proof at trial is beyond a reasonable doubt but during a suppression hearing the state must by a preponderance of the evidence show that officer had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop the defendant, and probable cause to arrest.
The Appellate Court also took issue with the fact that the State never presented any evidence during defendant’s trial, considering that the State has the burden of proof of defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Appellate Court found that the municipal court reliance of pre-trial hearing evidence violated the defendant’s right to procedural due process and fundamental fairness. Thus, the Appellate Court ruled that a court cannot be empowered over defendant’s objection, to consider pre-trial suppression hearing evidence in the trial on the merits; and simply proceed to closing arguments without asking defense counsel if he intends to call the defendant and/or witnesses.