Judgment of Acquittal Standard (Part 6)

by | Dec 15, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: The judgment of the Appellate Division upholding defendant’s conviction is affirmed by an equally divided Court. Three members of the Court found the evidence sufficient and three members found the evidence insufficient to sustain the murder conviction. The six members of the Court who participated in this appeal unanimously modify the Appellate Division’s holding with respect to its characterization of the scope of the evidence that should be considered in reviewing a post-verdict motion for a judgment of acquittal as explained on pages 28-32 of Justice Patterson’s opinion. The Court also unanimously agrees with the Appellate Division that defendant was not entitled to a new trial because a juror substitution occurred, for the reasons set forth on pages 60-66 of Justice Patterson’s opinion.

In State v. Reyes, the Court reviewed a trial court’s denial of a defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal of a charge of first-degree murder at the close of the State’s case. 50 N.J. 454, 458 (1967). As the Court framed the test, “the question the trial judge must determine is whether, viewing the State’s evidence in its entirety, and giving the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony as well as all of the favorable inferences which reasonably could be drawn therefrom, a reasonable jury could find guilt of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. at 458-59. When a defendant moves for a judgment of acquittal after all the proofs, however, the court considers not only the evidence presented by the State, but “the entirety of the evidence.” State v. Williams, 218 N.J. 576, 594 (2014). Accordingly, the Court does not concur with the Appellate Division’s view that evidence presented by the defendant is irrelevant to the court’s consideration when it reviews a post-trial motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict under Rule 3:18-2, and the Court considers defendant’s evidence in reviewing the trial court’s determination. The Reyes standard accords with the federal appellate standard for review of the sufficiency of the evidence.

The “entirety of the evidence” standard makes much more sense, although it is more difficult to apply. Otherwise, a reviewing court could just focus on the prosecutor’s direct examination and ignore a cross-examination that nullifies all of the points that were made.