NJ Supreme Court Decision State v. Greene
Appellate Docket No.: A-96-18
Decided and June 23, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent decision by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the Court reviewed whether a prosecutor who details evidence of a key witness to the jury, then the witness refuses to testify, prejudices the defendant enough for a mistrial.
In State v. Greene, defendants Greene, Lewis, and Toney Holliday were indicted on charges of murder during the commission of a robbery and burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3); first-degree robbery while armed with a deadly weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a)(1); and second-degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2(a)(1). The State alleged that Greene, Lewis, and Holliday killed Edward Baker in his home during a robbery. A fourth participant in the crime, A.J., a minor at the time, testified as the State’s key witness in accordance with a plea agreement.
Following the murder, the defendants fled to Greene’s grandmother’s house. Forensic testing revealed Lewis’s DNA on the hat’s sweatband and a drop of Baker’s blood on the hat’s exterior. After Greene turned himself into the authorities, investigators went to his grandmother’s house, and upon questioning her, received a confession Greene gave the day of the incident.
In the prosecutor’s opening statement to the jury at trial, he detailed the incriminating confession testimony that the grandmother was going to give during the trial. The prosecutor labeled her testimony as “the single most important piece of evidence that could be brought against [Greene].” When Greene’s grandmother was called by the State to testify, she pled the 5th Amendment and refused to testify. Notably, defense counsel did not object after the prosecutor’s opening statement or after the grandmother refused to testify.
Instead, the trial court, on consent of the State and defense counsel, gave jury instructions that the jury could not consider the prosecutor’s opening statement as evidence. Nonetheless, the defendants were convicted.
The Defendants appealed, and the Appellate Division overturned the convictions, ruling that the prosecutor’s opening statement was too prejudicial and required a new trial.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that Greene was to be given a new trial, as there was little evidence outside of his grandmother’s testimony to convict him. However, the Supreme Court also ruled that there was enough evidence against Lewis to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt, even without the grandmother’s testimony, and Lewis was not given a new trial.
This case is a harsh example of a defense attorney’s failure to object at each and every opportunity. If Lewis’ attorney had objected to the prosecutor’s opening statement, either during the time it was presented or when the grandmother refused to testify, a mistrial may have been given at that time. Instead, the attorneys agreed on curative jury instructions, leading to guilty verdict.
If you have been charged with any serious crime including but not limited to murder, homicide, sexual assault, sexual battery, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual battery, burglary, or any felony / indictable offense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Failing to hire a defense attorney and putting your faith in a public defender could give you the same result as the defendants in this 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.
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