Terroristic Threats and Aggravated Assault Charges Reversed After the Court Found It Was a Plain Error to Admit Evidence Regarding the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) That Related to This Incident.
Appellate Docket No.: A-1887-19
Decided March 18, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a trial conviction for terroristic threats and aggravated assault after the Court found it was a plain error to admit evidence regarding the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that related to this incident.
In State v. Okeke, Defendant’s former girlfriend Erica testified that she had dated defendant for about six months before the incident. She explained that she would occasionally stay at defendant’s apartment, and she kept certain personal items there, including clothing and her computer. According to Erica, on the evening of May 10, 2017, she told defendant she was breaking up with him and that she would be leaving the next morning. She then packed her belongings, placed them by the door, and slept on the couch.
The next morning, defendant woke Erica, wanting to talk about their conversation the previous night. When Erica responded that they could talk when she completely woke up, defendant poured a bottle of water on her and threw the bottle at her. Erica then got up, and defendant began going through her belongings. When she pulled defendant’s hand away from her clothes, defendant started punching her. Erica retreated, but defendant continued to punch her as she laid “cuddled” up on the floor. Erica explained that defendant then walked away, grabbed her cell phone, and went into the kitchen. She took that opportunity to run out of the apartment, she encountered the building’s superintendent, and the police were called. When the police arrived, they retrieved her cell phone and took Erica to the police station so that she could make a statement. Thereafter, Erica was taken to the hospital where she was treated for a fractured nose.
Erica was repeatedly asked about the TRO she obtained. Defense counsel did not object. The police officer who testified after was also asked about the TRO. Again, no objection from defense counsel. Defendant testified, supplying a different version of events and he was asked on cross examination about the TRO. The Court did not provide curative instructions to the jury and defendant was convicted of terroristic threats and aggravated assault.
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division reversed the conviction, finding that it was a plain error for the Court to admit testimony regarding the TRO during a criminal trial. At the very least the Court should have made limiting instructions to the jury explaining that the evidence regarding the TRO should not be considered for the criminal trial.
This case is important to understand evidence regarding a temporary restraining order (TRO) or final restraining order (FRO) is inadmissible in a criminal trial, unless used to impeach the defendant. Otherwise, it should not be considered, as the jury could be confused with regard to the different standards of proof required to find a TRO or FRO against defendant and finding him guilty of criminal charges.
It’s also important to understand the importance of hiring an experienced attorney with a strong understanding of the rules of evidence. Here, defense counsel failed to object to the testimony regarding the TRO. This led to defendant’s conviction that was fortunately overturned. Failing to object can have serious consequences for a defendant.
If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons involving a domestic violence, or you have questions regarding TROs and FROs in light of criminal proceedings, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. 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 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 Borough of Clayton, Township of Elk, East Greenwich Township, Township of Logan, Township of Mantua, Township of Monroe, Borough of National Park, Township of Harrison, Borough of Paulsboro, Borough of Pitman, Township of Greenwich, Township of South Harrison, Borough of Swedesboro, Township of Franklin, Borough of Newfield, Township of West Deptford, Township of Washington, City of Woodbury, Borough of Woodbury Heights, Borough of Westville, Borough of Glassboro, Township of Woolwich, Township of Deptford, and Borough of Wenonah.