Murder Conviction Reversed For Lack of Passion Provocation Consideration
- July 20, 2016
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Fernando Carrero was charged with the first-degree murder (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1), (2)); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a)); third-degree possession of a handgun without the requisite permit (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)); and third-degree hindering apprehension (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(1)). Pretrial hearings led to the admission of the revolver used to murder the victim, Jason Hall; evidence that the Defendant had been abusive and controlling toward his girlfriend; statements by the Defendant to the police; and a statement by the victim to a third party. Carrero was convicted by a jury of all counts and sentenced to life in prison. At trial, testimony was presented indicating the Defendant and Lowenstein were involved in a romantic relationship wherein he became controlling, jealous and paranoid. At one point, after he repeatedy struck her for “lying” when he questioned her about her friends Jason Hall and Hicks, Lowenstein provided Carrero with the answer he wanted which was that Hall had set Carrero up. Hall and Carrero were alone together some time later at Lowenstein’s family residence and Hall began to provoke the Defendant after entering the kitchen to find Carerro and Lowenstein kissing with her hands around Carerro’s waist. Lowenstein left the room to locate her parents and heard a gunshot. She returned to the room to find Hall on the floor and Carrero pointing a gun at Hall. In spite of Lowenstein’s pleas and physical efforts to prevent harm to Hall, Carrero shot Hall in the head. The Defendant’s account was that, after Lowenstein left the room, Hall threatened him and pulled the gun from his waistband. Carrero testified that the original gunshot occurred during the struggle wherein Carrero wrestled the gun from Hall’s hand. Carrero further testified that he did not intend to shoot Hall and never had his finger on the trigger but the gun accidentally went off when Lowenstein attempted to physically prevent him from shooting Hall. Hicks was in the basement below during the incident and claimed to have heard yelling and “thumping” noises and arrived upstairs to see Carrero flee with a gun in his hand. Newark Police later located the Defendant with the murder weapon. Carrero challenged on multiple grounds including the denial of his request for a passion/provocation manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b)(2)) charge to the jury; the admission of hearsay; the gravity of his sentence and the admission of prior-bad-acts he was involved in. The N.J. Appellate Division found that a fair trial requires proper jury charges pursuant to State v. Daniels, 224 N.J. 168 (2016), and that if there is evidence supporting the possibility that a jury could reasonably acquit the Defendant of the original charges but find the Defendant guilty of the lesser included charge then a plenary review of the reason for the denial of the lesser included charge is required under State v. Brent, 137 N.J. 107 (1994). Even when a lesser included charge is inconsistent with the defense’s theory of the case it should be offered as an option for the jury if the evidence at trial supports it. State v. Castagna, 376 N.J. Super. 323, 356 (App. Div. 2005); State v. Mauricio, 117 N.J. 402 (1990); State v. Taylor; 350 N.J. Super. 20 (App. Div. 2002). In the case of State v. Carrero, a passion/provocation manslaughter charge, defined under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b)(2) as a homicide which is committed in the heat of passion with reasonable provocation, should have been offered for the jury’s consideration. The four elements required to establish passion/provocation murder are adequate provocation; the provocation and the actions of Defendant had to occur proximately; the Defendant had to actually become impassioned by the provocation of the victim; and the Defendant must not have calmed down prior to acting against the victim. Mauricio, supra, 117 N.J. at 411. Although a passion/provocation charge is inconsistent with the Defendant’s self-defense theory, it is nonetheless an appropriate jury charge under the evidence presented, including that Hall was trying to provoke Carrero immediately before Hall was shot. The N.J. Appellate Division found that the trial court was incorrect in finding that a passion/provocation charge should not be presented because inconsistencies in the charges presented could confuse the jurors. Further, the Appellate panel found there was a rational basis to support the passion/provocation charge as there was evidence presented of threats, a struggle, Lowenstein’s testimony that her hands were around Carrerro’s waist immediately prior to the incident, and the Defendant’s testimony that Hall was the one who had the gun initially. Based on their findings, the Appellate panel reversed and remanded the matter for a new trial rendering the Defendant’s other points on appeal moot. If you are facing murder charges you are looking at a sentence of 30 years to life and even for lesser included offenses the sentence can be the same as life in prison depending on your age at sentencing. When confronting such charges, it is imperative that you have experienced and trusted criminal defense counsel at your side to ensure you have the best chance possible in fighting the case and protecting your rights. For more information about murder, aggravated manslaughter, assault or weapons charges in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.