If You Are Incarcerated on Pretrial Conditions, It Is Always Important to Be Mindful of a Change in Circumstances That Could Warrant Release

State v. Paul

Docket No.: A-0599-20T6

Decided November 24, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent published decision, the Appellate Division reviewed the requirements to modify pretrial conditions based on a change in circumstances.

In State v. Paul, Defendant was charged in a February 26, 2019 complaint warrant with first-degree strict liability for drug-induced death, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9(a), and related third-degree drug crimes. Rejecting the State’s motion for pre-trial detention, the trial court ordered defendant’s release on level 3+ pretrial monitoring, which included home detention without electronic monitoring.

The court thereafter modified and relaxed the conditions three times, with the State’s consent, by orders entered April 10, and August 8, 2019, and April 15, 2020. The modifications expanded defendant’s permissible movements outside the home during designated times of the day for specific destinations or tasks. Many of those involved his new role as the children’s primary caretaker, as he had lost his job and his wife returned to the workplace. Otherwise, home detention continued.

By motion, defendant sought a further modification of his pretrial conditions; specifically, he asked that the home detention condition be lifted entirely. Defendant essentially argued that new developments in his pre-trial investigation demonstrate hitherto unrecognized weaknesses in the State’s case. He argued these warrant review of the pretrial conditions and lifting of home detention. Most significantly, he contended that the recently received report of his toxicology expert raises doubts about the State’s expert’s opinion that pills defendant allegedly distributed contained fentanyl and caused the recipient’s death. Defendant also contended that recently obtained telephone records belie a statement by a State’s witness. And he argued that the State failed to preserve surveillance video of the exterior of the decedent’s home which raises questions about whether the decedent obtained the fatal dose of fentanyl from a different person. Defendant also argued that his compliance with release conditions for over a year supported further relaxation of the conditions, which he claimed were unnecessarily burdensome.

The State disputed defendant’s arguments.  The Trial Court denied defendant’s request to reopen the detention hearing.  Defendant appealed.

The Appellate Division found that first, the Court used the wrong standard.  The Court should have decided whether defendant had demonstrated a change in circumstances under Rule 3:26-2(c)(2) instead of whether to reopen the detention under Rule 3:4A(b)(3).  In order to show a change in circumstances, the defendant must show that the change is material, and that there is a reasonable possibility that it would warrant relaxing the conditions.  If the change is found, the judge can modify the changes.  Simply a passage of time and compliance with release conditions, alone, are not enough to for changed circumstances. Also, defendant’s evidence showed that it affected the weigh of the State’s evidence against him, which is a factor in determining a material change in circumstances. The Appellate Division remanded for the trial court to review under this standard.

If your family member, spouse, loved one, or friend is incarcerated on pretrial conditions, it is always important to be mindful of a change in circumstances that could warrant their release.  Especially during COVID 19, with no grand juries indicting people, defendants can be held on pretrial release indefinitely until grand juries resume. During this time, there may be changed circumstances that could allow a defendant to be released or modify their pretrial conditions.  Contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer today.

At Hark & Hark, in light of Coronavirus, we are lowering fees and offering flexible payment plans.  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.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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