Evidence at Detention Hearings: Part 1

by | Aug 22, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Legal Procedures, Monmouth County, Ocean County

On August 1, 2017, Chief Justice Rabner wrote for a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of State v. Amed Ingram. The principle issue was whether the Criminal Justice Reform Act requires the State to present testimony from a live witness at detention hearings. Under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), which went into effect on January 1, 2017, prosecutors can seek to detain defendants who pose a serious risk of danger, flight, or obstruction. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-18(a)(1).

Police officers arrested defendant on January 1, 2017, at 1:08 a.m., after an officer observed him in possession of a defaced .45 caliber handgun loaded with eight rounds. The State charged defendant in a complaint-warrant with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, second-degree possession of a firearm by certain persons with a prior conviction, and fourth-degree receipt of a defaced firearm. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint generally tracks the language of the statutes under which defendant was charged and, in the space to explain how law enforcement became aware of the stated facts, the officer wrote, “officer observations.” The officer also prepared a preliminary law enforcement incident report (PLEIR), which, at the time, was incorporated into the affidavit. The PLEIR offered these details: that the “complaining officer” and “another law enforcement officer personally observed the offense”; that a handgun “was involved in the incident”; and that the officers recovered spent shell casings. A Pretrial Services officer prepared a Public Safety Assessment (PSA). It rated defendant 6 out of 6—the highest level—for risk of both failure to appear and new criminal activity. The PSA also noted defendant’s criminal history.

The State moved for detention and submitted the following documents: the complaint-warrant, the affidavit of probable cause, the PSA, the PLEIR, and defendant’s criminal history. Defense counsel objected and argued that the CJRA and court rules required the State to present a live witness to establish probable cause. This objection touches on the constitutional right to cross-examine one’s accusers. Without a live witness, this right is lost at detention hearings if there is no live witness to cross-examine.