Judgment of Acquittal Standard (Part 7)

by | Dec 16, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: There was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s response to the juror’s misconduct. By virtue of his admitted violation of the court’s instructions, the juror made clear that he was unable to continue his jury service under Rule 1:8-2(d)(1) for a reason personal to him, and the court properly dismissed him from the panel. The trial court confirmed that the remaining jurors were not tainted by the incident; the jurors — including several who had heard the dismissed juror say that he had conducted independent research — stated that they would not allow the incident to affect their ability to fairly decide the case. There is no evidence that the jury had reached a preliminary or final determination on any issue prior to the substitution. The trial court properly instructed the reconstituted jury to deliberate anew, and the reconstituted jury heard playback of testimony and conducted deliberations before reaching its verdict. The Court shares the Appellate Division’s view that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it dismissed the juror, replaced him with an alternate rather than declaring a mistrial, instructed the reconstituted jury to begin deliberations anew, and denied defendant’s post-trial motion under Rule 3:20-1 for a new trial.

Justice Patterson, concurring, writes that, when viewed in accordance with the Reyes standard, the evidence presented at trial — including defendant’s proofs — is more than sufficient to support a reasonable jury’s determination that defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of purposely or knowingly killing her son. Justice Patterson expresses the view that the evidence supports the following reasonable inferences: (1) one or more individuals killed Timmy and left his body in or near the creek at the Raritan Center; (2) defendant was present when her son’s body was left there, and defendant chose a familiar location — a desolate wooded area very close to her former workplace — to dispose of her son’s remains; (3) the blanket was deposited in the woods with Timmy’s remains, and it came from defendant’s home; (4) when defendant arrived at the carnival on May 25, 1991, she was aware that her son was already dead and that any search for him would be futile, and defendant gave law enforcement false and contradictory accounts of his abduction to deflect attention from her own culpability and impede the investigation of her son’s disappearance; (5) defendant had a motive to kill her son; and (6) Timmy died as the result of a homicide. Justice Patterson reviews the evidence presented by defendant and concludes that it does not negate the State’s evidence. Justice Patterson concurs with the Appellate Division’s decision affirming the denial of defendant’s post-trial motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict under Rule 3:18-2.

The fact that the trial took 28 days likely played a role in the trial judge’s decision to deny the mistrial motion. If it were granted, the trial would have had to start from the beginning with a newly empaneled jury.