Severance Ruling in NJ vs. Grimsley & Malik – August 28, 2023
Docket No. A-2699-22
Decided August 28, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent published opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided the State’s appeal from an order granting defendants’ motion for severance of their scheduled joint trial.
In this case, the State alleges that on July 20, 2018, defendants engaged in a conspiracy to commit three robberies while armed with two handguns and hollow-nosed bullets. The State also believes defendant Grimsley eluded officers in a stolen van. Defendant Grimsley would eventually crash the van into a bus, injuring eight people in the process. Both defendants were charged with conspiracy, robbery, receiving stolen property and weapons charges. Defendant driving the van was also charged with aggravated assault and eluding.
From the time of the alleged crime in July 2018 through May 2023, defendants remained in pretrial detention. During that time, the State provided discovery to defendants and represented that all body-worn-camera and dashcam recordings had been turned over to them. The trial court commenced jury selection for the joint trial in March 2023. The court completed jury selection on April 6, 2023, but did not swear in the jury. The court scheduled the trial to begin on April 26, 2023. However, on April 21, 2023, the State informed defense counsel that it possessed eight body-worn-camera recordings that it had not previously provided defendants in discovery. After conferencing the case with the attorneys, the trial court decided that the trial would continue as scheduled, but the State would be barred from using any of the newly produced recordings at trial. The State never challenged this decision on appeal.
After reviewing the recordings, Malik’s attorney determined he wanted to use one of the body-worn-camera recordings in support of his client’s defense. Defendant Grimley objected, and Malik’s counsel subsequently filed for severance. The trial court heard oral argument on May 1, 2023, and eventually granted defendants’ motion. The court relied on the decision rendered in State v. Morant, where the court articulated that “evidence based on unlawful conduct of police officers cannot be admitted against a criminal defendant in New Jersey even at the request of a codefendant private citizen.” Since the goal of severance is to “preclude prejudice before it arises,” the trial court concluded that severance of defendants’ trials was required to accomplish that goal. The State appealed.
On appeal, the State contended that the trial court abused its discretion in granting severance of defendants’ trials because in order to demonstrate the type of prejudice that would warrant a severance, defendants had to provide an on-the-record proffer of the specific recordings Malik planned to use at trial and how they would be admitted into evidence. The Appellate Court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s decision. The court noted that under the circumstances, Malik could not present the recording without prejudicing Grimsley, and Grimsley’s continued objection would prejudice Malik by preventing him from using this evidence in an attempt to aid his defense. As a result, the Appellate Court was ultimately satisfied that that the trial court properly exercised its discretion by granting defendants’ severance motion and ordering separate trials.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to motions to sever trials. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendants in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.