Prosecutor Misconduct During A Trial Can Deny A Defendant A Right to A Fair Trial – Make Sure Your Attorney Recognizes It!
Docket No.: A-47-19
Decided March 10, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a opinion, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reviewed whether a under the plain error doctrine, defendant was denied a fair trial when a video depicting defendant’s family members speaking with police was excluded from evidence and, as a result, the prosecutor made statements to the jury in closing summation that the family did not speak to the police.
In State v. Garcia, Defendant was charged with second-degree aggravated assault and related charges stemming from a bloody confrontation with Raymond Urbanski outside of defendant’s mother’s house in September 2016. During a four-day jury trial, the State and defense presented starkly different accounts of the events in dispute.
According to Urbanski and his wife, they were outside around 1:00 a.m. when defendant parked two houses away and began “blasting” his horn. Urbanski gestured for defendant to “keep it down,” and walked toward defendant’s car. Defendant then exited his car with a box cutter in hand and, after a physical struggle, slashed Urbanski’s face and finger. Urbanksi’s wife called the police. Detective Janixza Domenech and other police officers responded. Domenech spoke with Urbanski and took a formal statement from his wife. Domenech stated she canvassed the area for witnesses but found none. She stated that, to her knowledge, no other witnesses came forward.
In contrast, defendant testified that, after parking outside his mother’s house and honking his horn three times, Urbanski approached his vehicle and banged on his car roof. When defendant exited the car, Urbanski, armed with a bottle, along with two other armed men, chased defendant. After being punched by Urbanski, defendant pulled a box cutter, used for work, from his belt. Defendant was struck in the head with a bottle; defendant flung his hand in fear and slashed Urbanski’s face.
Meanwhile, defendant’s mother, stepfather, and sister gathered on the mother’s porch. Their testimony of the events they witnessed paralleled defendant’s. They each testified that they attempted to speak with police at the scene but that “they just wouldn’t listen.”
During trial, defense counsel sought to admit a video, taken by defendant’s uncle, capturing the family’s interaction with the police at the scene. The video portrayed the family attempting to give their account to the police and being told to “take it to court,” with Domenech walking in the background. The trial court excluded the video as inadmissible hearsay, rejecting the argument that the video contained prior consistent statements admissible to meet a charge of recent fabrication under N.J.R.E. 803(a)(2).
The prosecutor’s summation targeted the credibility of defendant’s family members, specifically the mother’s, urging the jury to disbelieve their testimony because they did not come forward and give their accounts to police at the scene. The prosecutor also intimated that it was preposterous to think that the police would not take information from an available witness.
Defendant was convicted of all charges. The Appellate Division affirmed the convictions. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certification.
The Court reversed the conviction. The Court claimed that it was a mistake to exclude the video evidence, as it contradicted the police claim that the area was canvassed and no one spoke to them. In combination of the video evidence being excluded, the prosecutor’s closing summation criticizing the family for not talk to police, in stark contrast to the proposed video. This combination of events denied defendant a fair trial. The case was reversed and remanded for a new trial.
Prosecutor misconduct during a trial can be means to denying a defendant a right to a fair trial. However, in order to preserve your rights as a defendant during trial, your attorney must object at every opportunity to preserve it for appeal. Otherwise, without proper objections, you may lose your right to appeal the issue. Make sure you hire an experienced defense attorney who is able to immediately pick up on prosecutor misconduct and state the appropriate objection.
If you or someone you know was in a situation similar to this, contact Hark & Hark today.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case involving motions to suppress. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
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 to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, 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. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Woodbridge, Lakewood, Toms River, Hamilton, Trenton, Clifton, Camden, Brick, Cherry Hill, Passaic, Middletown, Union City, Old Bridge, Gloucester Township, East Orange, Bayonne, Franklin Township, North Bergen, Vineland, and Union.