On April 28, 2022, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Essex County case of State v. S.J.C. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6 was whether the defendant was prejudiced by the State’s seven year delay in filing sexual assault charges.
Judge Rose wrote for the Court in relevant part: Against this legal backdrop, we review defendant’s assertions of prejudice in the present matter. Defendant casts a wide net of blame on the State, generally claiming the State’s delay rendered him unable to “locate exculpatory witnesses and evidence, assert an alibi, and even conduct basic fact investigation.” He contends the locations where the incidents allegedly occurred no longer exist, rendering it impossible to find witnesses. Defendant urges us to adopt the less stringent standard for assessing prejudice in the context of motions to withdraw guilty pleas under State v. Slater (2009) (recognizing “certain facts readily demonstrate prejudice, such as the loss of or inability to locate a needed witness, a witness’s faded memory on a contested point, or the loss or deterioration of key evidence”). Defendant’s contentions are misplaced.
Actual prejudice requires more than possibilities and presumptions. The defendant’s burden is not akin to his burden under Slater. In Slater, the Court established a four-pronged test for plea withdrawals, where the defendant has claimed innocence: “(1) whether the defendant has asserted a colorable claim of innocence; (2) the nature and strength of defendant’s reasons for withdrawal; (3) the existence of a plea bargain; and (4) whether withdrawal would result in unfair prejudice to the State or unfair advantage to the accused.” Id. at 157-58. Prejudice under the fourth Slater factor thus is viewed through the prism of the State’s proofs. Even then, prejudice is not presumed. “No factor is mandatory; if one is missing, that does not automatically disqualify or dictate relief.” Id. at 162. Indeed, courts view Slater motions – prior to sentencing – with liberality. Id. at 156.
In any event, defendant’s argument is grounded in generalities and vague assumptions. He failed to proffer names of potential witnesses, notwithstanding Inna’s allegations that he worked at the mechanic shop, and her description of three people who resided at 94 Linden Avenue. Nor did he “specify with particularity” or provide any evidence as to how the testimony of the purported witnesses would have benefited his defense. Also absent from the record is a sworn statement of a municipal worker or certified document from the town addressing the nonexistence of the 94 Linden Avenue address. We therefore conclude, as did the motion judge, defendant failed to sustain his burden of demonstrating actual prejudice.
Here, the Court fails to take into account that the defendant would be prejudiced by providing the specifics of the offense that he could assert. Doing so would enable the State’s witnesses to know the cross-examination topics and questions in advance of an trial. That would enable the preparation of false, yet credible testimony.