Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 32)

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: In another seminal opinion, decided in June 2006 after the matter now before us was tried, the United States Supreme Court clarified in Davis v. Washington that hearsay statements are “non-testimonial” when they are “made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.” Conversely, Davis instructed that statements are “testimonial” if “the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such ongoing emergency, and the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.”

Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed the continued vitality of the Crawford “testimonial” standard of admissibility in Whorton v. Bockting (2007). In Whorton, the Court held that Crawford had announced a “new rule” of constitutional law which is “flatly inconsistent with the prior governing precedent.” However, the Court declined to apply Crawford’s testimonial standard collaterally to cases that were not pending or on direct appeal when Crawford was decided in June 2004. The Court observed in this regard that the Crawford test had been adopted to restore “the Framers’ original understanding of the meaning of the Confrontation Clause,” rather than to enhance the “fundamental fairness and accuracy” of criminal proceedings.

Before applying the precepts of Crawford and Davis to this appeal, we should first address, at least briefly, whether constitutional rights of confrontation in the Sixth Amendment extend to drunk driver prosecutions in the municipal court. We have already twice answered that question in the affirmative. See State v. Berezansky and State v. Renshaw.  Our reasoning in both Berezansky and Renshaw stemmed from a recognition that a DWI charge is a “quasi-criminal” offense, and one that carries consequences of magnitude. We discern no sound basis to depart from that assumption here. Indeed, courts across the nation have repeatedly applied Crawford’s standards of confrontation in settings involving drunk driving charges and other municipal prosecutions. In continuing to apply the Confrontation Clause to drunk driver prosecutions in the municipal court, we are mindful that our State Supreme Court has extended many, but not all, of the Sixth Amendment’s various guarantees to such DWI trials.

A Sixth Amendment protection that has not been extended to municipal court prosecutions is the right to a trial by jury. There are no juries in municipal court, only bench trials decided by the judge.