Supreme Court of New Jersey: State in the Interest of E.S.
Docket No. A-41/42-21
Decided November 22, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent published opinion, the Supreme Court of New Jersey determined whether the trial court abused its discretion in choosing to hear the State’s waiver motion before E.S.’s suppression motion and whether the Family Part should “apply a general preference” to hear suppression motions before deciding waiver motions.
The facts of this case are as follows: In March 2021, officers were conducting routine surveillance from an unmarked black Jeep when they observed E.S. and his codefendant walking down the street. When the two men suddenly stopped, an officer observed E.S. reach into his right pants pocket while shielding the outside of his pocket with his left hand. E.S’s codefendant reached toward his own waistband at the same time. E.S. and his codefendant were ordered to stop by officers, but defied that command and pointed their handguns at the officer’s jeep before attempting to flee the scene. Officers pursued both men and eventually placed both E.S. and his codefendant in custody. A search incident to arrest revealed a loaded handgun on the defendant’s person. E.S. was charged as a minor and his codefendant was charged as an adult.
After some time, defense counsel filed a motion to suppress the gun seized from defendant at the scene. Two weeks later, the State filed a motion to waive juvenile court jurisdiction and to transfer the case to the Law Division, Criminal Part, to prosecute E.S. as an adult. The family court judge ruled that the waiver motion should be heard before the suppression motion and Appellate Division affirmed that judgment. The court concluded that, although the Family Part has the discretion to determine the optimal sequence of proceedings, it should apply a general preference to have the suppression hearing conducted first in the Family Part. Therefore, the Appellate Division concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in choosing to hold the waiver hearing first. E.S. E.S. subsequently filed a motion for leave to appeal, and the State filed a motion for leave to cross-appeal. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certiorari to both motions.
E.S. argued that the Supreme Court should affirm the Appellate Division’s ruling by establishing a per se rule or, at minimum, a presumption that suppression motions should always be heard prior to waiver motions. E.S. also requested that the Court reverse the Appellate Division’s remand instructions to the Family Part and direct that the trial court hear his suppression motion before the waiver motion.
The State requested that the Supreme Court reverse the Appellate Division’s ruling and adopt a bright-line rule declaring that waiver motions should be heard before substantive motions, such as motions to suppress. The State argued that the Appellate Division erred by applying a general preference to hold suppression hearings prior to waiver hearings, which (1) is at odds with the nature of waiver hearings as a preliminary jurisdictional determination; (2) creates confusion for trial courts applying the preference; and (3) is unnecessary given the speculative harms, current statutory structure, and procedural safeguards protecting a juvenile.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the Appellate Division and affirmed their ruling, concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to hear the defendant’s waiver motion before considering his suppression motion. However, the Supreme Court declined to adopt a preference that the Family Part hear suppression motions before waiver motions. The Court held that it is within the discretion of the Family Part to determine its schedule of proceedings and manage its calendar. The Court sets forth factors that Family Part judges should take into consideration in exercising their discretion as to the order in which to hear waiver and suppression motions. These factors include (1) whether the evidence that the defendant is seeking to suppress, if excluded, would be dispositive of probable cause or have a substantial effect on the case in chief; (2) whether there are co-defendants with suppression motions pending in the Family or Criminal Parts; and (3) judicial efficiency and management of the court’s calendar.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case. 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.
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