Narcotics Kingpin Statute (Part 4)

by | May 27, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The three-judge panel concluded with the following in relevant part: We stress that the error that constrains us to reverse the leader convictions is not just the trial court’s failure to recite a few adjectives from the case law. Rather, the crux of the error was the failure to tailor the model jury charge in a way that addressed the trial proofs regarding the distinct roles played by each individual defendant. The three defendants may have been tried jointly, but each was entitled to a jury instruction molded to the facts pertaining to his own involvement in the criminal organization. We emphasize that unlike a traditional conspiracy prosecution under N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, which presents essentially a yes or no question as to whether a defendant is a conspirator, the leader offense focuses on a defendant’s role within the conspiracy. As we noted in Section II, a person can be a participant in a “chain” conspiracy, to use the State’s characterization, and not be a leader within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-3.

This was not a situation where the facts were neither “complex nor confusing” as to obviate the need for molded instructions. On the contrary, the very nature of this multi-level leader prosecution highlights the importance of providing a comprehensive definition of the term “high level” that could be applied to each defendant. In this instance, moreover, the trial court’s “statement of relevant law, when divorced from the facts, was potentially confusing or misleading to the jury,” as shown by the jury’s incisive question to the court. That question underscores the need for a carefully tailored jury charge that incorporates the language in Alexander that the State on appeal mistakenly claims was delivered. We therefore conclude that the jury instruction was inadequate and that the error was clearly capable of producing an unjust result such that a reasonable doubt is raised as to whether the error led the jury to a result it otherwise might not have reached. Accordingly, we reverse and vacate the leader convictions and remand for a new trial for Burnett and Daniels.

The State had to be aware that their assertions were not supported by the trial record. They were likely hoping that the Court would overlook this or explain it away.