On April 19, 2021, one day after Governor Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill that would have eliminated mandatory minimum prison sentences for a broad set of crimes, New Jersey’s Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, issued a groundbreaking internal directive to prosecutors (the “Directive”) that exercised prosecutorial discretion to effectively eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug [...]
On February 22, 2021, New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana when Governor Phil Murphy signed a group of laws that enacted the marijuana legalization ballot measure approved by more than two-thirds of New Jersey voters in November.
One of the great tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the thousands of New Jersey pretrial detainees who – despite being presumed innocent and not having been convicted of any crime – are languishing in unsafe conditions in county jails while courts remain closed to jury trials. On February 11, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court endorsed the reopening of thousands of detention hearings by inmates detained for longer than six months, citing the “due process concerns” caused by the unexpectedly lengthy suspension of criminal trials in New Jersey.
Is the NJ Attorney General’s moratorium on marijuana prosecutions a “move toward decriminalization?” Probably not.
When New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a memorandum yesterday ordering local prosecutors to temporarily halt marijuana prosecutions in municipal courts until September, news outlets, including the New York Times, called it a possible "step toward decriminalization." Amol Sinha, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey executive director, praised the move, stating that "[b]y directing prosecutors to pause adjudication of marijuana cases, this letter starts that [decriminalization] process." Marijuana trade magazines were even more effusive.
While most people consider themselves unlikely to become the subject of a police investigation, there is one common situation in which ordinary citizens fall under police scrutiny: the traffic stop. Police officers are trained to search for evidence of illegal activity every time they pull over a driver, whatever the reason for the stop. While the consequences for speeding, failure to maintain lane, careless driving or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be bad enough – carrying the possibility of loss of driving privileges, assessment of motor vehicle points and higher insurance rates – things become far more serious if the police search for and find illegal drugs in a car. Teenagers and young adults – who are presumed by police to be more likely to be in possession of illegal recreational drugs – are often the targets of such searches late at night, while driving to and from wherever it is that teenagers actually disappear to when they leave the house to “hang out with friends.”
New Jersey Supreme Court curtails criminal harassment statute in State v. Burkert, limiting a common vehicle for domestic violence charges
New Jersey’s criminal harassment statute has long occupied the space in which the messiest family law disputes cross over into the realm of criminal law. Although there are indeed many legitimate cases of harassment that deserve punishment, in recent years New Jersey appellate courts increasingly had noted that the harassment statute too often criminalized “ordinary domestic contretemps” – i.e. the non-violent verbal sparring that accompanies the disintegration of a marriage or romantic relationship. In the view of the courts (and many frustrated family law and criminal attorneys), New Jersey’s harassment statute was too permissive in allowing an angry spouse or romantic partner to file criminal or civil domestic violence charges after being subjected to hurtful or vile insults, even where there had been no actual violence or threat of harm.
Under assault from criminal defense bar and gun rights groups, NJ Attorney General halts enforcement of unconstitutional stun gun laws
Facing legal challenges from both gun rights advocates as well as the criminal defense bar, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino on October 20, 2017 issued a memorandum to prosecutors and police departments halting the enforcement of criminal laws that prohibit the possession, manufacture, and shipment of “electronic arms” such as stun guns and Tasers. The legal challenges to New Jersey’s stun gun laws were triggered by a 2016 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, Caetano v. Massachusetts, in which the Court applied the Second Amendment to strike down a Massachusetts law that prohibited the mere possession of stun guns, even if possessed for self-defense.
On May 2, 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court beat back an attempt by prosecutors and a lower court judge to require a defendant to create and turn over evidence prior to trial over the defendant’s objection that doing so violated his right to remain silent. In State v. Tier, the Supreme Court clarified an issue that often causes a great deal of argument in the days leading up to criminal trials: the extent to which and in what form a defendant must provide the State with statements by witnesses who are expected to testify for the defense. In ruling for the defense, the Supreme Court provided criminal defendants with a valuable precedential opinion by which to combat overly-aggressive attempts by the State to shift the burden onto the defendant to produce evidence before trial.
On Wednesday, May 10th, 2017, The Bar Foundation of Union County will be hosting a continuing legal education course entitled “Domestic Violence: Statute and Case Law Update.” Andrew Olesnycky will be speaking during this CLE with active sitting judges in Union County, as well as other professionals. The event will be held at the Garlic Rose Bistro at 28 North Ave. West in Cranford, New Jersey, with the seminar and appetizers happening from 4:45 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. and dinner being served at 6:45 p.m.
In January 2017, the New Jersey Legislature amended the State Constitution and passed legislation to dramatically alter the process by which courts determine whether a defendant is held in jail – rather than released – while awaiting trial. While defendants previously could secure pretrial release by paying bail money to the court, the new system, commonly referred to as, simply, “Bail Reform,” conditions pretrial release upon a judge’s determination of the likelihood that the defendant will fail to appear in court or commit another offense, without consideration of the defendant’s financial resources.