Witness’s Charge and Subsequent Conviction of a Robbery Used as Evidence by the Defendant to Show That He Did Not Sexually Assault the Witness
Appellate Docket No.: A-0183-18
Decided May 23, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether a witness’s charge and subsequent conviction of a robbery could be used as evidence by the defendant to show that he did not sexually assault the witness, instead the witness planned to rob him.
In State v. Munroe, defendant and three women rented a motel. Defendant desired to have sex with the three women. When they refused, defendant took one into the bathroom and forced her to have oral sex after brandishing a firearm. The women fought back, police arrived and arrested defendant with the firearm after defendant attempted to flee.
Before trial, defendant moved to admit other-crimes evidence of a robbery that took place after the motel incident in which Janine and Samantha were implicated. Defendant sought to introduce the evidence at his trial in order to show that the women, armed with the handgun hidden in the shopping bag, had planned to lure defendant to the motel and rob him on March 22.
At the N.J.R.E. 104 hearing, testimony revealed that Janine and Samantha were arrested for conspiracy to commit a robbery in Orange on July 8, 2014. The record shows that while an accomplice strip-searched the victim, Janine and Samantha searched the victim’s residence. Following the women’s arrest, police officers recovered a plastic bag containing an iPhone, make-up items, a hairbrush, and a ring. Janine, whose July 8 charges were dismissed, testified that no weapons were used during the robbery. Samantha, whose July 8 charges remained pending at the time of the hearing, did not testify.
The court found no nexus between defendant’s proffered other-crimes evidence and the allegations against him, concluding that the July 8 robbery was not relevant to defendant’s case. The court noted the July 8 robbery was about a dispute between neighbors and that no gun was involved. The court further found the July 8 robbery facts to be inconsistent with defendant’s theory that Nina, Janine, and Samantha lured defendant with the promise of sexual favors in order to rob him.
Turning to N.J.R.E. 403, the court found that even if the July 8 evidence was relevant, its probative value was outweighed by undue prejudice and confusion of the issues. The court stated that use of such evidence would invite the jury to engage in “rank speculation.” Finally, the court concluded that even without the July 8 evidence, defendant retained the opportunity to attack the credibility of Samantha’s testimony at trial.
After trial, the jury convicted defendant of second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(4), second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b), third-degree criminal restraint, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2(a), third degree terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(a)-(b), and third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a). In a separate trial, the jury found defendant guilty on the second-degree certain persons charge. N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b)(1). The court sentenced defendant to a five-year term of imprisonment on the certain persons charge consecutive to concurrent seven-year terms on the sexual assault charge (subject to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:3-7.2), and the weapons charge, which came with a forty-two-month parole disqualifier.
Defendant appealed the denial of the admission of prior bad acts of the witnesses, and the Appellate Division affirmed the denial, finding that the prior bad acts were not relevant, and even if they were, it would extremely prejudice the State and cause an enormous amount of disruption and confusion for the jury.
Rule 404(b) prohibits evidence of any other crime, wrong, or act from being admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.
Under State v. Cofield, 127 N.J. 328, 338 (1992), the Court adopted a four-prong test to screen for admissibility of other crime evidence under Rule 404(b), requiring that the evidence be “relevant to a material issue;” “similar in kind and reasonably close in time to the offense charged;” “clear and convincing;” and have “probative value” that is “not . . . outweighed by its apparent prejudice.”
“[E]vidence that is intrinsic to the charged crime is exempt from the strictures of Rule 404(b) even if it constitutes evidence of uncharged misconduct that would normally fall under Rule 404(b) because it is not evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts.” State v. Rose, 206 N.J. 141, 177 (2011).
Here, the proffer of the witnesses/victims prior bad acts was not found to be relevant to the determination of whether defendant sexually assaulted the witnesses or not. What’s more, even if it were relevant, the prejudicial nature outweighed any probative value.
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