New Jersey Supreme Court Bars Defendant’s Prior Sexual Assault Acquittal

New Jersey Supreme Court bars introduction of a defendant’s 10 year old prior sexual assault Florida jury trial acquittal in a New Jersey criminal case regarding the same alleged activity.

Submitted By New Jersey Sex Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In this case the defendant, JM, is charged with sexually assaulting a spa patron during the course of his employment while providing a massage. At issue is the State’s effort and intention to introduce at the time of trial, “evidence of a prior sexual assault” for which the defendant was found not guilty at trial, under New Jersey Rule of Evidence 404B.

4 Part Cofield Test to Admit “Other Crimes Evidence”

This rule of evidence enables the court, upon the exercise of its discretion, to allow evidence of other prior bad acts under a limited set of circumstances. There must be, according to the long standing New Jersey Supreme Court decision and State v. Cofield, a four-part balancing test and hearing conducted by the trial court prior to admitting the “other crimes evidence”.  This is the case because any “other crimes evidence “will play a pivotal role in the juries determination of guilt. In addition the jury must be instructed that they must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the other crimes evidence actually occurred in order for that evidence to receive any weight.

After going through the four part Cofield test, the New Jersey Supreme Court determine the other crimes evidence, for which the defendant have been found not guilty, should not be admitted here. The defendant in this case argued that there was absolutely no sexual while in his employment at the spa. The use of 404 (b) prior bad acts evidence can be admitted for the limited purpose is of proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, absence of mistake, or accident.  Because the defendant in this case, the Supreme Court reasoned, was arguing that there was absolutely no assault, the prior bad acts evidence exceptions do not come in the play in any manner.  And balancing the prejudice versus the probative value, the Supreme Court reasoned the prior bad acts evidence, for which the defendant was found not guilty at the prior Florida trial, was too prejudicial because it would suggest to the jury that this defendant had the propensity to commit the very same crime even though he had previously been acquitted.

The Cofield four prong test require:

  1. The evidence of the other cry must be admissible as relevant to a material issue,
  2. 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 be outweighed by it’s apparent prejudice.

In conclusion, in this case because they prejudicial effect of this evidence substantially outweighed the probative value, and the defendant was arguing there was absolutely no assault in this case, it was not relevant to a material issue. As a greater policy issue, the Supreme Court stated such “other crimes evidence” could be so prejudicial and have such a great impact on the jury that such evidence should be admitted to the jury with ‘restraint’.

The court recognized in many cases such ‘other crimes evidence’ will have a substantial ability to distract the jury from the evidence at hand and prejudice a defendant and  therefore should be  excluded.  The court directed the trial judges to critically evaluate the proffered evidence in order to properly balance the relevancy of the evidence and the prejudicial effect it will cause on a jury.  Here the court ruled because the defendant contended the alleged assault never occurred, intent, absence of mistake and other collateral basis allowed by 404B, the evidence is irrelevant and should not be admitted.

Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.
609-471-1959. Cell
856-354-0050 Office

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