NJ Criminal Bail Reform Act Requires Prosecution to Make Early Disclosure of Evidence

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

On February 8, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided State v. Robinson, an important case expanding the right of criminal defendants to access the evidence against them at their pretrial detention hearing, an early stage of their court proceedings.

In Robinson, the defendant was charged in the Essex County, New Jersey Courts with murder. The basis for the charges was an affidavit of probable cause claiming that eyewitnesses observed the defendant shoot the victim, and that these witnesses then identified the defendant from a photo array. The affidavit also referenced surveillance footage showing the commission of the crime.

Robinson was decided under the new Bail Reform Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2017. That law provides that:

[I]f the prosecutor is seeking pretrial detention, the prosecutor shall provide the
defendant with all statements or reports in its possession relating to the pretrial
detention application. All exculpatory evidence must be disclosed.

This is a significant change – and improvement – from prior law, in which a prosecutor was not required to provide discovery until a defendant had been indicted by a grand jury. The Court sought to determine what was meant by “relating to” as it referred to evidence held by the state.

In Robinson, the prosecution refused to provide the specific documents and information requested by the defendant’s lawyer. At the defendant’s pretrial detention hearing, the prosecution claimed that, at that early stage in the proceedings, their only discovery obligation was to produce the probable cause affidavit and the preliminary law enforcement information report (which is a summary of the evidence created by police agencies), rather than the underlying documentation.

The trial court rejected the prosecution’s argument, holding that the state must produce the evidence referenced in the affidavit and law enforcement summary, as well as any initial police reports relating to the state’s application for pretrial detention.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Court found that the prosecution ignored the plain language of the Bail Reform Act statute as it related to criminal discovery. The Court also rejected the prosecution’s argument that it need only provide police reports “relied on” by the state in its application for pretrial detention. The Court noted that to accept this argument might lead the state to avoid its discovery obligations.

The Court further disagreed that by granting access to this discovery, pretrial detention hearings might become miniature trials. Instead, the Appeals court found that these materials were essential to the defense of the state’s application to hold a defendant in pretrial detention.

As a result of the Robinson decision, the state must now, at a very early but critical stage of the criminal proceedings – provide the defense with all materials in the state’s possession, including evidence possessed by law enforcement, that is referenced either in the affidavit of probable cause or in police summary of the case.

Schwartz & Posnock has handled Superior Court and Municipal Court criminal cases throughout the State of New Jersey, for over thirty years. We have a proven track record of excellent results for our clients. Please contact us in any one of our convenient locations, including our Monmouth County office, located in Eatontown (at the Jersey Shore), our Essex County office, located in Livingston, our Union County office, located in Linden, or our Middlesex County office, located in East Brunswick, to discuss your case. You may call the experienced criminal defense attorneys of Schwartz & Posnock at 732-544-1460 or email us at info@schwartzposnock.com.

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