Joinder of Trials Should Not Override a Defendant’s Right to a Fair Trial

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In a recent unpublished opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed whether the trial court appropriately denied defendant’s request to sever separate counts of an indictment for a defendant that was accused of molesting three underage girls.

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.

Prior to trial, the defendant made a motion in an attempt to sever the indictment counts into three separate trials for the three separate victims.  The defendant’s motion was denied.  Defendant was convicted and appealed.  The Appellate Division found that although joinder of the trials is generally favored for judicial economy and efficiency, it should not override a defendant’s right to a fair trial.  The fear of joinder is that juries may use evidence cumulatively and apply it to other counts of an indictment where the evidence would not normally be presented if a separate trial was afforded.  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)

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 by separate witnesses, you may be entitled to a severance of your trials.  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 Borough of Clayton, Township of Deptford, East Greenwich Township, Township of Elk, Township of Franklin, Borough of Glassboro, Township of Greenwich, Township of Harrison, Township of Logan, Township of Mantua, Township of Monroe, Borough of National Park, Borough of Newfield, Borough of Paulsboro, Borough of Pitman, Township of South Harrison, Borough of Swedesboro, Township of Washington, Borough of Wenonah, Township of West Deptford, Borough of Westville, City of Woodbury, Borough of Woodbury Heights, and Township of Woolwich.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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