State v. Habeeb Robinson (A-40-16) (078900)
Argued March 29, 2017 -- Decided May 10, 2017
RABNER, C.J., writing for a majority of the Court.
In this appeal, the Court considers the newly enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act for the first time and addresses the type and scope of discovery the State must provide when it seeks to detain a defendant pretrial.
The Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26, has three principal components. First, it allows for pretrial detention of defendants who present such a serious risk of danger, flight, or obstruction that no combination of release conditions would be adequate. Second, it replaced the system’s prior heavy reliance on monetary bail and instead calls for an objective evaluation of risk level and consideration of conditions of release. Finally, the Act establishes statutory speedy trial deadlines. The CJRA took effect on January 1, 2017.
N.J.S.A. 2A:162-18(a) authorizes the court to order pretrial detention if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release would reasonably assure a defendant’s appearance in court, the safety of the community, and the integrity of the criminal justice process. A rebuttable presumption of detention exists when the court finds probable cause for murder or a crime subject to life imprisonment. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(b).
When a prosecutor applies for pretrial detention, the defendant is held pending a hearing. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(d)(2). “In pretrial detention proceedings for which there is no indictment, the prosecutor shall establish probable cause that the eligible defendant committed the predicate offense.” N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(e)(2). A defendant can rebut a presumption of detention, when one applies, by a preponderance of the evidence. Ibid. If a court orders detention, its decision must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(e)(3).
At the hearing, “the court may take into account”: (a) “[t]he nature and circumstances of the offense charged; (b) [t]he weight of the evidence against the eligible defendant”; (c) the defendant’s “history and characteristics”; (d) the danger posed by release; (e) the risk of obstruction of justice; “and (f) [t]he release recommendation” of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) prepared under N.J.S.A. 2A:162-25. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-20.
After the Legislature enacted the CJRA, the Court asked the Criminal Practice Committee to propose amendments to the court rules. The Committee divided sharply about the amount and type of discovery that should be required for pretrial detention hearings. The Court struck a compromise: “if 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.” R. 3:4-2(c)(1)(B).
The police arrested defendant Habeeb Robinson for killing a victim. According to the affidavit, two eyewitnesses saw the shooting. One identified defendant from a six-person photo array; the other identified a photo of defendant. The Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report (PLEIR) adds that a surveillance camera recorded the incident. The pending complaint charges defendant with first-degree murder and weapons offenses. The PSA recommended that defendant not be released.
The State moved for pretrial detention. At the hearing, the State relied on the hearsay statements in the affidavit of probable cause (which refer to the two eyewitnesses); the presumption of detention under N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(b)(1) (based on the murder charge); defendant’s criminal history and record of court appearances; and the release recommendation in the PSA. The trial court directed the State to disclose the two witness statements, the photos used in the identification process, the surveillance video, and any incident report that the police prepared.
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s order. 448 N.J. Super. 501, 506 (App. Div. 2017). The Court agreed to hear the State’s motion for leave to appeal on an accelerated basis. 2
HELD: Both the trial court and the Appellate Division directed the State to disclose the statements of two eyewitnesses, photos used in the identification process, any incident report of the crime prepared by the police, and a surveillance video. Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B) required disclosure of the reports and the photos but not the video. The Court also clarifies and reframes the Rule to help ensure that it strikes the proper balance between two important concerns: a defendant’s liberty interest and the State’s ability to seek to detain high-risk defendants before trial.
1. Thoughtful people have wrestled over the scope of discovery that should be required at a detention hearing. A number of considerations factor into the ongoing debate: the language of the statute; important concerns for public safety; and the defendants’ liberty interests. In addition, the discovery rule should not impose impractical demands on law enforcement. The administration of justice calls for fair and efficient proceedings. In the case of a detention application, the focus is not on guilt, and the hearing should not turn into a mini-trial. (pp. 26-29)
2. To balance those aims, the Court sets forth principles to govern the disclosure of evidence at a detention hearing: (1) because the Act calls for a determination of probable cause and an assessment of the risk of danger, flight, and obstruction, which may include consideration of the nature and circumstances of the offense and the weight of the evidence, discovery should likewise be keyed to both areas; (2) the complaint, (3) the PSA, (4) the affidavit of probable cause, and (5) any available PLEIR must be disclosed; (6) all statements and reports relating to the affidavit of probable cause should be disclosed; (7) all statements or reports that relate to any additional evidence the State relies on to establish probable cause at the detention hearing should be disclosed; (8) statements and reports related to items that appear only in the PLEIR need not be disclosed; (9) statements and reports relating to the risk of flight, danger, and obstruction, which the State advances at the hearing, should be disclosed; the phrase “statements and reports” (10) refers to items that exist at the time of the hearing and does not encompass video and audio files as a general rule, but does (11) encompass reports that are in the possession of the prosecutor, law enforcement officials, and other agents of the State; and (12) all exculpatory evidence must be disclosed. (pp. 29-32)
3. With those principles in mind, and based on the Rule’s practical application since January 1, 2017, the Court clarifies and revises Rule 3:4-2(c), effective at once. The revisions are to be read with Rule 3:13-3, which obligates the State to provide full discovery when it makes a pre-indictment plea offer or when an indictment is returned or unsealed. In appropriate cases, the prosecutor may apply for a protective order directly to the judge who will preside over the detention hearing. If, after an extensive, long-term investigation, the State seeks permission to provide more limited discovery, judges may direct that a representative sample of statements and reports be disclosed before the detention hearing. When the Court adopted the original Rule, it unanimously rejected the recommendation that videotapes be disclosed before a detention hearing. The revised rule maintains that approach. (pp. 32-36)
4. The discovery rule—in its original and revised form—satisfies the requirements of due process and passes muster under the Federal and New Jersey Constitutions. (pp. 37-40)
5. Applying Rule 3:4-2(c), as clarified, to this case, any initial police reports about the witnesses must be disclosed, and the prosecution must provide copies of statements or reports of the two eyewitnesses. When an eyewitness makes an identification, the State must document the process and record certain details. That information should be disclosed along with copies of any photo arrays or photos used in the identification process. Because photos shown as part of an identification receive special treatment under the law, their disclosure is an exception to the rule. Neither the original nor the revised Rule calls for disclosure of surveillance videos and similar items. (pp. 41-42)
The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED and MODIFIED. The revised Rule 3:4-2(c) shall go into effect at once.
JUSTICE ALBIN, DISSENTING IN PART, concurs in the judgment in this case based on the language of the then-operative Rule but dissents from the majority’s decision to draft a new rule. In Justice Albin’s view, the redrafted Rule sanctifies artificial distinctions, making highly relevant evidence non-discoverable (a videotape) and second-hand evidence discoverable (written summary of tape). The redrafted Rule also gives the prosecutor a perverse incentive to place information, not in the affidavit of probable cause, but rather in the PLEIR because reports and statements referenced in the PLEIR are non-discoverable.
JUSTICES PATTERSON, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER’s opinion. JUSTICE ALBIN filed a separate opinion, dissenting in part and concurring in part, in which JUSTICE LaVECCHIA joins.