State v. James Rogers Decided May 3, 2019 New Jersey Appellate Division (Not Approved for Publication) Appealing a Municipal Court Conviction — Standard of Review
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
An appeal of a municipal court conviction must first be addressed by the Law Division de novo. R. 3:23-8. The role of the Law Division is to make independent findings of facts and conclusions of law based on the record developed in the municipal court. State v. Avena, 281 N.J. Super. 327, 333 (App. Div. 1995) (citing State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 157 (1964)). The Law Division on an appeal from the municipal court does not search the record for error, or determine if there was sufficient credible evidence to support a conviction. The Law Division is required to decide the case completely anew on the record made before the municipal judge, “giving due, although not necessarily controlling, regard to the opportunity of the” judge to evaluate witness credibility. Johnson, 42 N.J. at 157; see also State v. Cerefice, 335 N.J. Super. 374, 382-83 (App. Div. 2000). The Law Division performs “an independent fact-finding function in respect of defendant’s guilt or innocence,” State v. Ross, 189 N.J. Super. 67, 75 (App. Div. 1983), and the judge must “make his [or her] own findings of fact.” Avena, 281 N.J. Super. at 333 (quoting Ross, 189 N.J. Super. at 75).
We review the Law Division’s decision employing the “substantial evidence rule.” State v. Heine, 424 N.J. Super. 48, 58 (App. Div. 2012). “Our review is limited to determining whether there is sufficient credible evidence present in the record to support the findings of the Law Division judge, not the municipal court.” State v. Clarksburg Inn, 375 N.J. Super. 624, 639 (App. Div. 2005) (citing Johnson, 42 N.J. at 161-62). However, we review the Law Division’s interpretation of the law de novo without according any special deference to the court’s interpretation of “the legal consequences that flow from established facts.” Manalapan Realty, LP v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).