Monday, October 21 2019

Appellate Unit

The Appellate Unit has three assistant prosecutors and one clerical staff member.  The assistant prosecutors in the Unit are responsible for briefing and orally arguing appeals at various levels of New Jersey’s courts and in the federal courts.

The Unit’s attorneys argue appeals from all of Burlington County’s municipal courts, which are heard as trials de novo in the Superior Court, Law Division.  They also argue appeals from the Law Division to the Superior Court, Appellate Division and the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  The Unit routinely handles all levels of appeal from non-indictable matters. Appeals from indictable convictions are referred to the Unit by way of the Appellate Bureau of the Office of the Attorney General, Division of Criminal Justice.  The Unit also proactively initiates its own appeals, in those cases where the State is permitted to appeal – most often on leave to appeal from adverse interlocutory rulings.

The Appellate Unit attorneys are also responsible for briefing and arguing civil petitions for writ of habeas corpus in the federal courts – the District Court for New Jersey, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.  These matters are all referred to the Unit through the Division of Criminal Justice, Appellate Bureau.

The Unit’s attorneys are responsible for briefing and arguing motions for post-conviction relief in the Superior Court, Law Division, and a majority of the appeals therefrom.

One of the Unit’s attorneys is responsible for coordinating the Pretrial Intervention Program.  The assistant prosecutor, in conjunction with the PTI Director from the probation department, makes determinations whether to reject or admit individual defendants to the program.  The Appellate Unit handles appeals of these determinations – either when a defendant who has been rejected appeals, or when the State appeals the decision of the Superior Court judge to order someone into the program over the State’s objection.

One of the Unit’s attorneys is responsible for handling expungements. Pursuant to statute, in limited instances, defendants may be entitled to have their criminal record expunged after an application to a Superior Court judge.  This Unit reviews such applications and objects to expungement when necessary.  Briefs and oral arguments are required when objections to the expungement application are opposed by the prosecutor.

SIGNIFICANT CASES DURING 2016

Ronald Burns v. Charles Warren, et al.

On the evening of September 6, 1999, Tony Felder, acting on the defendant’s instructions, shot and killed Ronald Patterson Jr., in Mount Holly. The defendant was convicted in 2002 of first-degree Murder, second-degree Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purpose, and Hindering Apprehension.  After exhausting his state court remedies, the defendant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

In his petition, the defendant alleged that the New Jersey state courts had erroneously rejected claims of prejudice and violations of the New Jersey and United States constitutions on appeal and on motions for post-conviction relief.  The defendant alleged that a total of 16 different errors at trial warranted reversal of his conviction, including allegations that he was deprived of a fair trial when a State’s witness expressed before the jury that he refused to answer certain questions posed by the prosecutor; that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by calling the witness when it knew that the witness was hesitant to testify; that he was prejudiced by the jury instructions given at trial; and that he was prejudiced by the court’s refusal to remove certain jurors from the panel for cause.  On March 22, 2016, the District Court concluded that the state courts’ decisions denying defendant’s claims of error were not contrary to, nor were unreasonable applications of law, and that defendant was not entitled to federal court relief.

State v. Shannon Sidorek

On February 28, 2012, the defendant, who was under the influence of multiple controlled dangerous substances, including Oxycodone and Xanax, caused a two-car motor vehicle collision in Pemberton Township that resulted in the death of 81 year-old Elizabeth Smith.  The defendant’s blood was drawn without a search warrant at the request of the New Jersey State Police, while she was being treated at a hospital in Trenton, after a sergeant entered her vehicle at the scene of the crash to search for identifying credentials and found pill bottles in her purse.  One of the pill bottles was ultimately found to contain Oxycodone.

The defendant moved to suppress the results of the blood draw, the pill bottles, and the contents of the bottles, alleging that the sergeant’s entry into the passenger compartment of her vehicle and his search of the purse violated her constitutional rights.  The Superior Court, Law Division, granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the bottles, pills contained therein, and the blood draw.  The State filed a notice of motion for leave to appeal.  The Superior Court, Appellate Division, granted the State’s motion for leave to appeal.  On October 7, 2014, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s suppression of the pill bottles, the oxycodone contained therein, and her blood, concluding that the sergeant’s actions in entering defendant’s vehicle to search for her credentials and identifying information were objectively reasonable in light of the facts known to him at the time of the search.

The defendant filed a motion for leave to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  On March 14, 2016, the Supreme Court granted defendant’s motion for leave to appeal and summarily remanded the matter to the Appellate Division for reconsideration in light of State v. Adkins, 221 N.J. 300 (2015) and State v. Keaton, 222 N.J. 438 (2015).  On April 15, 2016, the Appellate Division again reversed the trial court’s decision suppressing the seizure of defendant’s purse, the bottles of medication it contained and the contents of those bottles. The court remanded the matter to the trial court for additional testimony regarding the blood draw, which the trial court ultimately concluded was admissible.

State v. Boyce Singleton

On September 13, 2005, the defendant shot his pregnant girlfriend, Michelle Cazan four times, then stabbed her four times with a butterfly knife.  The knife wounds to Michelle proved fatal.  The defendant had been living in Michelle’s home since July 2005.  The day before Michelle’s death, she told the defendant she was pregnant with his child.  In 2008, the defendant was convicted at trial of first-degree Murder, second-degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, third-degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, third-degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, third-degree Hindering Apprehension, and fourth-degree Tampering with Physical Evidence.

The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed his conviction based upon an alleged deficiency with a jury instruction on the defendant’s proffered defense of insanity.  The State petitioned for certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division decision and remanded the matter to the Appellate Division for consideration of the defendant’s remaining claims on appeal.  The Appellate Division rejected the defendant’s remaining claims.

In 2013, the defendant filed a motion for post-conviction relief in the Law Division, alleging that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call a witness at trial and for failing to pursue a defense at trial attacking the State’s expert witness regarding his examination of defendant and his testimony at trial that defendant was able to understand that what he was doing was wrong when he shot and stabbed Michelle.   The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for post-conviction relief, holding that trial counsel effectively represented defendant and that counsel’s decision not to call the witness or attack the testimony of the State’s witness at trial did not prejudice the defendant.  The defendant appealed from the denial of his motion.  On October 12, 2016, the Superior Court, Law Division, concluded that the trial court had correctly rejected defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and denied his appeal in its entirety.

State v. Hassan Jones

On May 8, 2011, the defendant physically and sexually assaulted H.N., his intermittent paramour of 10 years.  When H.N. returned to her residence after work that night, defendant was inside.  H.N. placed a voice recorder in a pocket of her pants to record their interactions because she was aware of defendant’s history of unpredictable behavior.  H.N. told the defendant she no longer wished to have a sexual relationship with him and refused his advances.  The defendant demanded that H.N. engage in sexual intercourse.  When she refused, the defendant began threatening her life, stating he would kill her, burn down her house, and damage her career and family.  The defendant choked H.N., slapped her in the face, and held her down on a mattress.  The defendant demanded that H.N. remove her clothes, and he had intercourse with her against her will.  H.N. repeatedly asked the defendant to stop.

In 2012, defendant was convicted at trial of second-degree Sexual Assault, third-degree Criminal Restraint, third-degree Aggravated Assault, and third-degree Terroristic Threats.  The defendant was sentenced to 10 years in New Jersey state prison (85% to be served without the possibility of parole), as well as three concurrent five-year state prison sentences.  The defendant did not pursue a direct appeal.  In 2015 however, he filed a motion for post-conviction relief in the Superior Court, Law Division.  The defendant alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for several reasons.  The Law Division determined that an evidentiary hearing was necessary to resolve two of the defendant’s claims, and conducted a hearing on September 30, 2016.  Specifically, the court considered the defendant’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call witnesses who would have testified that the victim was angry about his infidelity and wanted to hurt his reputation and his claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate alleged prior false accusations of domestic violence against the defendant.  After considering the testimony adduced at the hearing and the arguments of counsel, the court denied all of the defendant’s claims on motion for post-conviction relief on November 30, 2016.

State v. Lenroy Laurance

On September 2, 2009, the defendant and co-defendants Robby White and Kareem Harrison decided to commit a carjacking or robbery in Philadelphia. They armed themselves with handguns and hunted for a victim.  They encountered victim Lyudmila Burshteyn while she was sitting in her vehicle, pointed their handguns at her, and entered her vehicle.  The defendant stole $1,000 from the victim’s purse, and Willis hit the victim in the face with a handgun, injuring her.

The defendant, Willis and Harrison began driving the victim’s vehicle while holding her captive and went back to their residence, where they picked up co-defendant Marcus White.  The defendant and his co-defendants drove the vehicle, containing the bound and blindfolded victim, into New Jersey to search for weapons they had discarded earlier in the week.  When they were unable to find the handguns, they decided to kill the victim and sell her vehicle to a “chop shop.”  They drove the victim’s vehicle to a rural road in Mansfield Township and removed the victim from her vehicle.  The defendant told her she was “home,” walked her into a field, and shot her in the neck.  The defendant and co-defendants fled the area, leaving the victim to die from her wound.

The defendant and his co-defendants fled New Jersey, and were apprehended driving the victim’s vehicle in South Carolina.  The defendant was convicted of nine counts at trial, including first-degree Murder, first-degree Carjacking, first-degree Kidnapping, second-degree Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purpose, and third-degree Terroristic Threats.  The defendant was sentenced to life in New Jersey state prison plus 40 years (85% to be served without the possibility of parole).  The defendant appealed his conviction and sentence, which were upheld.

The defendant then filed a motion for post-conviction relief in the Law Division in November 2015, alleging that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to jury instructions regarding co-conspirator liability, and that counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate a potential witness who could have testified on his behalf at trial.  After considering the submissions of the parties and the arguments of counsel, the court concluded that defendant had failed to demonstrate that counsel’s representation was ineffective or that the defendant was prejudiced by counsel’s failure to object to the jury instructions or failure to investigate the alleged witness.  The trial court thus denied the defendant’s motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing, holding that a hearing was not needed to resolve his claims.

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