Suppression of Exculpatory Evidence (Part 4)

by | May 16, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded with the following in relevant part: In his summation, the prosecutor attacked the credibility of defendant’s family members, misrepresenting that they made no attempt to speak with the police at the scene. The prosecutor specifically discredited the mother, arguing that the mother was aware she had to speak with the detective and not the police officers, that she saw Domenech taking notes, and that she did not respond the way a mother naturally would respond if she had helpful information concerning her son to “tell the police at the scene” about what had happened. The excluded video refuted the image he conveyed to the jury. The prosecutor exploited a favorable evidentiary ruling to strike an unfair blow at the defense and give a misleading presentation to the jury untethered to the truth.

In fulfilling the duty to seek justice, a prosecutor must refrain from making inaccurate factual assertions to the jury and from employing improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction. Although the prosecutor is free to discuss the direct and inferential evidence presented at trial, the prosecutor cannot press an argument that is untrue — that is contradicted by an objective video recording excluded from evidence for reasons unrelated to its authenticity. That otherwise trustworthy and reliable evidence may be deemed inadmissible, for one reason or another, does not give a party, including the prosecutor, a right to freely portray a false picture of events.

This case was a pitched credibility contest between the witnesses presented by the State and the defense. The prosecutor’s synthetic argument that defendant’s family members, in essence, lied when they testified that they tried to speak with the police at the scene had the clear capacity to tip the scales against defendant. For if the jury believed that argument, then it was within its rights to disregard the whole of their testimony supporting defendant’s self-defense claim. Under the plain error doctrine, the trial court’s error in excluding the video from evidence and the prosecutor’s improper exploitation of that evidentiary ruling combined to deny defendant a fair trial. Reversed and remanded for a new trial.

The defendant’s deportation was ordered as a result of his conviction. It is unknown if he will be reunited with his family in America if his name is ultimately cleared and all of the charges are dismissed.