The New Jersey Supreme Court majority continued in relevant part: Based on the record, Hannah has established that his counsel rendered constitutionally deficient representation and that, but for counsels’ errors, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different. The Court reverses the judgment of the Appellate Division denying Hannah post-conviction relief, vacates his judgment of conviction, and remands for a new trial.
Hannah’s argument that the information in the Redd Report was newly discovered evidence was adjudicated at an evidentiary hearing before the third PCR judge, who found, based on the record before him, that “it is probable that Hannah’s counsel was in possession of the Redd report” and “highly unlikely that the report was suppressed at trial.” The fourth PCR judge should have adhered to the finality of that decision. For purposes of this appeal, the Court accepts that counsel at trial, on direct appeal, and at the first PCR hearing had the Redd Report and somehow overlooked it.
The question that remains is whether each of those counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by not utilizing the Redd Report, and whether errors by trial counsel contributed to the court’s findings that Thomas’s mother’s testimony was inadmissible. Stressing that Hannah’s ineffective-assistance argument has not received a meaningful review and that there is a voluminous record from the trial and PCR evidentiary hearings, the Court considers Hannah’s claim to determine whether he was denied a fair trial and whether his conviction constitutes a fundamental injustice. Rules 3:22-4 and -5 permit review of otherwise barred claims to prevent a fundamental injustice, which occurs when an error or violation played a role in the determination of guilt.
The facts of this case raise the question of how many current inmates could have their convictions overturned if they were privy to their full case file. Here, the loss of the first case file during a prison lockdown is the difference between an affirmed conviction and life sentence, and a new trial after which Hannah may go free. Given the passage of time and the likely difficulties that the State will have in re-presenting their case, there is a good chance that Hannah will receive a favorable plea offer that guarantees his future release.