Aggravated Assault and Robbery Convictions Reversed Due To Comments At Trial By Detective And Prosecutor
- April 13, 2015
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Anthony Coles was charged with second-degree robbery (N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1) and third-degree aggravated assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(7)) after a physical altercation with another man outside a store in Union County, NJ wherein Coles allegedly robbed the man of several hundred dollars. Although the store had a recording system, the detective charged with obtaining the video failed to obtain the pertinent part thereof in order to bolster the State’s case. Prior to the taping over of the portion of the video wherein Coles and the victim both appeared in the store, the video was viewed by officers who responded to the scene as well as the victim who identified Coles in the video as the person who beat and robbed him. Coles indicated that he knew the victim prior to the event because he had previously purchased marijuana from the victim and gave a different version of the reasons for the altercation. In State v. Coles, the detective charged with obtaining the video testified regarding the benefit the missing video would have offered the State’s case as well as opinion testimony with regard to the State’s case in general. Over the objection of defense counsel, the trial judge permitted the testimony of the detective and inappropriate statements made by the prosecutor during the state’s closing argument. Based on the cases presented, the defendant was convicted of theft from the person (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2(a)(2(e)) and simple assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a)(1)) and sentenced to an extended 9 year term in prison as a persistent offender under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-3(a) with a discretionary parole disqualifier of 4.5 years. The NJ Appellate Division looked to State v. McLean, 205 N.J. 438 (2011) and State v. Vandeweaghe, 177 N.J. 229 (2003) regarding the matter of lay opinion testimony removing one function of the jury. McLean specifically sets forth that officer testimony may “include opinion…or what the officer ‘believed’, ‘thought’ or ‘suspected,’…”McLean, 205 N.J. at 460. The Appellate Division determined it was error by the trial court to permit the detective’s opinion testimony. Additionally, State v. DiFrisco, 137 N.J. 434, 474 (1994) and State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J.123, 322 (1987) lent guidance to the Appellate Division with regard to reversal of a conviction when the prosecution’s closing arguments deprive the defendant of a fair trial. The Appellate Division held it impermissible for the prosecutor to use the defendant’s presence at trial to discredit testimony provided by the defendant in summation as “tailored” after presentation of the state’s case pursuant to State v. Daniels, 182 N.J. 80 (2004) and felt the impropriety to have raised a strong question regarding whether the defendant’s right to a fair trial was upheld. As a result of the likelihood that defendant was deprived of his right to a fair trial the NJ Appellate Division remanded the matter for a new trial. Aggravated assault and assault charges are very serious and bear severe consequences. If you are facing assault charges, you should obtain experienced criminal defense counsel immediately to insure your rights are protected. For more information about aggravated assault, robbery and other serious criminal charges in New Jersey, visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.