Sex Assault Conviction Overturned Due To Police Officer’s Prejudicial Testimony
- December 5, 2014
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E.S. was convicted of first-degree aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)); second-degree sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 14-2(b)); and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child (N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)) based on allegations by his stepdaughter S.W. S.W. was born in 1996 and her mother, N.S, married E.S. in 1998. E.S. and N.S. had children of their own. Living conditions in the family home were beyond crowded and the parents and five children, including S.W., all slept in one bedroom. S.W. complained to her mother in 2008 about multiple touchings by E.S. and when nothing changed, S.W. complained to Aziza Hassan, her teacher. During the interaction with Hassan, S.W. began sobbing in the early morning before school began after Hassan found S.W. waiting in the classroom. Hassan asked S.W. what the problem was and, after S.W. indicated there were problems at home, Hassan asked S.W. if she was raped. Once S.W. indicated to Hassan that S.W. had been raped, Hassan notified the police, DYFS and school authorities. E.S. was arrested after an investigation and sentenced to 12 years in prison with an eighty-five percent parole ineligibility period under the No Early Release Act (N.E.R.A.)(N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2) and a concurrent 6 year term also subject to NERA. In State v. E.S., E.S. appealed based on multiple issues which the court found did not prejudice his rights. The N.J. Appellate Division held that one of the issues raised on appeal by E.S. was valid and had substantial probability of prejudicing the jury. Detective Jennifer Novak of the South River Police Department made multiple statements at trial, in the jury’s presence, which supported the credibility of S.W. In particular, Novak indicated her belief of S.W.’s statements and implied that the investigation revealed evidence that the crimes had occurred. Even after the admonishment of the trial judge, Novak continued to make implications about the veracity of S.W. and guilt of E.S. The N.J. Appellate Division heavily weighed the matter of Novak’s testimony and sighted to multiple prior decisions regarding the matter. State v. J.Q., 252 N.J. Super. 11 (App. Div. 1991) addressed the issue of witness credibility being a question for the jury. State v. Landeros, 20 N.J. 69, (1955) held that police officers may not offer opinions as to the defendant’s culpability when testifying as fact witnesses. Novak’s implication that notes written by S.W. in response to Hassan’s questioning about the word ‘rape’ included more inculpatory evidence than they did was contrary to State v. Bankston, 63 N.J. 263 (1973). The N.J. Appellate Division held that the testimony of Novak could have prejudiced the jury against E.S. and reversed the convictions and remanded to the Law Division for a new trial on all three counts of the indictment. If you are accused of sexual assault or other sex crimes in NJ you are facing very serious penalties including civil commitment, prison and lifetime registry as a sex offender. You need experienced legal counsel to defend you against these charges. For more information about sexual assault, rape, endangering the welfare of a minor, solicitation of a minor, internet crimes or other sex crimes in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.