On January 19, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Camden County case of State v. Damon Williams. The principal issue concerned whether the prosecutor’s references and use of non-evidentiary images in summation amounted to prejudicial error.
Justice Solomon write for a unanimous Court in relevant part: In 2014, defendant entered a Bank of America branch. He approached the window of Maria Cervantes, a bank teller in her early twenties, bent down until the two were at eye level, and leaned toward the bars above the counter separating tellers from customers. Defendant then passed Cervantes a note that said, “Please, all the money, 100, 50, 20, 10. Thank you.” Cervantes opened her cash drawer and gave defendant about $4,600. When she tried to include a pack of $20 bills containing a GPS tracker and a device that would trigger a silent alarm, defendant instructed her not to.
During the encounter, defendant did not produce a weapon or threaten the use of a weapon, nor did he verbally threaten violence if Cervantes did not comply with his request. Defendant then walked out of the bank and another teller triggered the alarm. The central trial issue was whether defendant committed second-degree robbery — theft using force or the threat of force, purposely putting Cervantes in fear of immediate bodily injury — or third-degree theft — exercising unlawful control over the movable property of another with purpose to deprive him thereof. Throughout the trial, the State repeated the theme “actions speak louder than words.” During her summation, the prosecutor displayed to the jury a PowerPoint slide with the heading “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.”
Prosecutors often put together PowerPoint slides that defense counsel is seeing for the first time during their summation. An experienced trial attorney knows that a pretrial motion should be made to force the prosecution to turn over al such slides for review before they are displayed to a jury.