Prior Crimes Evidence Inadmissible In Theft Trial
- June 9, 2013
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In a theft trial, the prosecution has limited ability to present evidence of prior theft offenses. In State v. Lige, defendant was charged with 3rd degree receiving stolen property in regard to a tow truck and license plate. Defendant’s prior criminal history included 18 theft convictions in the Superior Court as well as multiple other offenses. The trial court permitted the prosecution to offer witness testimony indicating defendant was in possession of stolen property on at least 6 other instances. The NJ Appellate Division reversed the case and found a new trial was in order as N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7(b), which pertains to receiving stolen property, had been misapplied by the Superior Court. The statute includes that the jury may presume defendant knew the property was stolen if defendant is: (1) in possession of 2 or more items of stolen property on 2 or more separate occasions; or (2) has received stolen property in other transactions within 1 year of the property at issue; or (3) normally transacts in such property but did not make reasonable inquiry into how it was acquired; or (4) is found in possession of 2 or more defaced devices. Under NJ Evidentiary Rule 404(b), evidence of prior crimes is admissible to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident. In State v. Cofield, 127 N.J. 328, 336 (1992) the Court set forth a 4-part test for determining admissibility under 404(b). In order to be admissible, evidence of prior crimes must be (1) relevant to the material issue in dispute; (2) similar and reasonable proximate in time to the crime charged; (3) clear and convincing; and (4) while offering proof, is not substantially prejudicial to the defendant. Although the evidence presented may have met the criteria of N.J.R.E 404(b), the witnesses proffered by the prosecution presented extensive information to the jury of crimes more than 1 year before or months after the crime charged. In making its decision to reverse the verdict and require a new trial, the Appellate Division held the testimony did not fit within the 1 year statutory limitation or N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7(b) and was therefore inadmissible. If you have been charged with receiving stolen property or any other theft offense in NJ, you should immediately obtain an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. For more information on protecting your rights if charged with theft, burglary, shoplifting or other crimes in NJ visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.