Franks Hearings and Discovery (Part 5)

by | Apr 6, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Supreme Court majority concluded with the following in relevant part: Applying that standard here, the Court first notes that the requested materials do not pertain to the “determination” of the charges against defendant, but rather to uncharged conduct; they are therefore not “relevant” within the meaning of Rule 3:13-3(b)(1), nor are they exculpatory. As a result, the materials were not subject to automatic disclosure under Rule 3:13-3(b)(1). The Court thus considers whether, to ensure the fairness of judicial proceedings, materials identified with reasonable particularity that fall beyond the scope of Rule 3:13- 3(b)(1), but may call into question the validity of a search warrant affidavit, are discoverable to defendants who have shown a plausible justification for requesting the materials. Defendant clearly met the standard of reasonable specificity as to the lab report, which was described in the affidavit. Defendant barely met the standard of plausible justification, given the importance of the lab report to the warrant affidavit, the dependence of the charges on the execution of that warrant, and the affiant’s omission of any mention of “buy money” in the affidavit.

In contrast, the other requested materials were broadly categorized, would not be amenable to necessary redactions, and were not identified with reasonable specificity. And the only justification offered in support of those materials was defendant’s blanket denial, which is not sufficient. The Court stresses, moreover, that defendant’s preliminary showing as to the lab report does not mean he is guaranteed access to that information. Rather, the court will have to review the report in camera. The ultimate discovery decision resides in the discretion of the trial court. The Court underscores its adherence to the Franks/Howery framework and reemphasizes the importance of preserving the confidentiality of informants.

The Court acknowledges the error of the trial court in hearing defendant’s motion to compel discovery six months after hearing his motion to suppress evidence. The Court urges counsel to file these motions together and courts to schedule these motions close in time. The Court relies on the trial courts to hold defendants to the proofs required by the preliminary standard adopted in this decision and, when defendants make that requisite showing, to exercise their discretion, after an in camera review, in determining whether, and in what manner, discovery should be allowed. The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed as modified.

The majority’s very narrow reading of our discovery rules undermines a basic discovery maxim in criminal cases. The prosecutor’s file is supposed to be an open book unless the prosecutor meets the burden for obtaining a protective order for specific materials. Even then, those materials should be reviewed in camera and preserved for appellate review.