The Appellate Division concluded with the following: In Sterling, the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction regarding one sexual assault, despite improper joinder with another sexual assault and a separate burglary, because of “the strong, independent proof of the defendant’s guilt” of that assault. Notably, the Court found the incontrovertible DNA evidence as to that one assault rendered the improper joinder harmless error as to that conviction.
In this case, the jury convicted defendant of only the two counts involving Sara. It either acquitted defendant or could not reach a verdict on all the counts charging him with crimes allegedly committed against Karen. Nonetheless, the jury heard evidence of defendant’s alleged repeated assaults of his daughter, her treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, and a doctor’s detailed recitation of Karen’s allegations. The State’s proofs against defendant on the charges involving Sara consisted of her testimony, her video recorded statement, and Kate’s very brief “fresh complaint” testimony. Dr. Lanese added little to the State’s case. Trying these two sets of allegations together before a single jury clearly implied defendant had “a propensity to commit crimes, and, therefore, that it was ‘more probable that he committed the crimes for which he was on trial.'” The improper joinder clearly had the capacity to bring about an unjust result. R. 2:10-2. We therefore reverse defendant’s convictions, vacate the sentences imposed, and remand for a new trial.
This case will almost certainly be appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. An obvious argument that the prosecution can make is that all indications were that the jury followed the law during their deliberations as opposed to convicting the defendant because of propensity evidence. Otherwise, they would not have acquitted him of multiple counts. Additionally, the law requires us to presume that the jury followed the Court’s instructions absent evidence to the contrary. The record does not reveal any evidence to the contrary.