State v. Mackroy-Davis

Decision Date27 June 2022
Docket NumberA-43 September Term 2021,086626
Parties STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Marcus S. MACKROY-DAVIS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Robin Kay Lord argued the cause for appellant (Law Offices of Robin Kay Lord, attorneys; Robin Kay Lord, Trenton, and Monika Mastellone, on the briefs).

Jennifer B. Paszkiewicz, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Scott A. Coffina, Burlington County Prosecutor, attorney; Jennifer B. Paszkiewicz, of counsel and on the briefs).

Alexander Shalom argued the cause for amici curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Public Defender of New Jersey (American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation, and Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorneys; Alexander Shalom, Newark, Jeanne LoCicero, and Elizabeth C. Jarit, Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

David White argued the cause for amicus curiae Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey (Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, attorneys; David White, Hackensack, on the brief).

Lauren Bonfiglio, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for amicus curiae Attorney General of New Jersey (Matthew J. Platkin, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Lauren Bonfiglio, of counsel and on the brief).

John McNamara, Jr., Morris County Chief Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for amicus curiae County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey (Esther Suarez, President, County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, attorney; John McNamara, Jr., of counsel and on the brief).

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal poses a narrow question: whether a particular defendant's statutory right to a speedy trial was violated. The issue, though, raises broader concerns linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foremost among those considerations is that defendants in criminal cases have a right to a speedy trial and a corresponding right not to be held in jail pretrial for lengthy periods of time. For more than two years, however, there have been far fewer in-person trials because of COVID-19. Beginning in March 2020, the court system, like the rest of society, could not safely bring large groups of people together for court proceedings in close quarters. Even though restrictions have loosened and trials have resumed, relatively few courtrooms today can accommodate all the essential parties to a criminal trial with appropriate social distancing.

Those limitations naturally led to an increase in pending cases, and thousands of criminal matters now await trial. To compound the problem, defendants in roughly 6,000 cases await their day in court while in custody. In each of those matters, a judge found the defendant posed a substantial risk of danger, flight, or obstruction and ordered the person detained pretrial.

Defendants have the right to be released two years after a judge orders them detained, excluding delays attributable to the defendant, if the prosecutor is not ready to proceed to trial. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-22(a)(2)(a). The statute is silent about what happens if the parties are ready but there are not enough courtrooms or judges to try the case. As we address that dilemma, we must attempt to balance the relevant interests in a way that comports with defendants’ rights under the Criminal Justice Reform Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26 (CJRA or Act).

In this case, defendant faces charges for murder, conspiracy, and aggravated assault in connection with his alleged role in a fatal drive-by shooting. The trial court ordered him detained in December 2019.

Despite multiple delays -- most of which resulted from the pandemic -- his trial has not yet begun. Because the prosecution announced it was ready to proceed to trial at the two-year mark, however, we find that defendant's statutory right to a speedy trial has not been violated. We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for trial with additional instructions.

We also offer guidance on various issues that relate to excludable time under the CJRA as well as the need to schedule more jury trials as soon as practicable.

I.

Defendant Marcus Mackroy-Davis was arrested on November 11, 2019 in connection with a drive-by shooting in Burlington City the day before. One person was killed as a result of the shooting.

A complaint against Mackroy-Davis charged him with conspiracy to commit murder. The accompanying affidavit of probable cause summarized witness statements, information from surveillance cameras, and an Instagram clip associated with a codefendant's account. The affidavit asserted that Mackroy-Davis drove a car with two passengers, one of whom fired three gunshots into the area where the victim and his friends were standing.

The State moved to detain Mackroy-Davis pending trial. The charge against him -- first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2(a)(1) and 2C:11-3(a)(1) -- carried a presumption of detention. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(b). After a hearing, the trial court found that there was probable cause defendant committed the charged offense and that he had failed to rebut the presumption. In addition to the nature and circumstances of the offense, the court relied on the weight of the evidence and defendant's history. The court noted, in particular, three outstanding charges against defendant for which he had failed to appear on eight occasions. The court observed, "[i]f he does not appear ... for [disorderly persons] charges, how likely is he to attend court for a first-degree offense." Based on the unrebutted presumption of detention and the court's finding that defendant posed a danger to the public and a risk of non-appearance, the court entered an order of detention on December 23, 2019.

On February 13, 2020, a Burlington County grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against Mackroy-Davis and two others. Mackroy-Davis was charged in three of the counts with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A 2C:11-3(a)(1), -3(a)(2), first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2(a)(1), 2C:11-3(a)(1), and fourth-degree obstruction, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).

Defendant maintains his innocence and has stated he intends to go to trial. At the time of oral argument, his trial had not yet begun. Defendant asserts the delays violate his rights under the CJRA, and he maintains he is entitled to be released from pretrial detention.

II.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous effect on society since March 2020. Across the globe, millions have died and taken ill from the virus. Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins Univ. & Med., https://coronavirus-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ntust.edu.tw (last visited June 21, 2022). The pandemic has also upended the personal and professional lives of countless people.

COVID-19 has affected the justice system as well. Early on, the Judiciary pivoted to virtual proceedings in place of in-person gatherings. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), since mid-March 2020, more than 381,000 virtual court events have taken place involving more than 6 million participants. Today, the court system operates with a mix of virtual and in-person proceedings, and certain changes will likely extend beyond the pandemic. See Sup. Ct. of N.J., Future of Court Operations -Continuation of Both In-Person and Virtual Court Events, at 1 (Nov. 18, 2021 Order).1

For the criminal justice system in particular, the consequences of the pandemic have been substantial. Consistent with guidance from public health officials, the Judiciary for more than a year was unable to summon jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, and the parties for in-person jury trials. As a result, the Court on its own entered fourteen omnibus orders that tolled the clock for the start of criminal trials for a total of 461 days. See COVID-19 Updates, N.J. Cts., https://www.njcourts.gov/public/covid19.html (listing all fourteen omnibus orders); see also N.J.S.A. 2A:162-22(a)(2)(a).

Those developments inevitably led to an increase in the number of pending cases. In March 2020, a large group of defendants already awaited trial on pending charges. With each passing day, more people were arrested and charged with crimes, but for an extended period, most could not be assigned a trial date and have a jury hear their case. Today, according to the AOC, there are approximately 6,000 cases in which defendants are held in custody pursuant to an order of pretrial detention as they await trial. On any given day, hundreds more are in custody as they wait for an initial appearance or detention hearing.

III.
A.

We begin with a brief overview of some basic points related to the CJRA. Under the prior system of pretrial release, New Jersey, like most states, relied heavily on cash bail. State v. Robinson, 229 N.J. 44, 52, 160 A.3d 1 (2017). The CJRA replaced that approach with a risk-based system that, for the first time, allowed judges to detain high-risk defendants pretrial. Id. at 54, 160 A.3d 1. The Act also provided speedy trial deadlines for detained defendants. Ibid.

Since the Act went into effect on January 1, 2017, most defendants have been released pending trial subject to monitoring by pretrial services officers. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-17, -25(d). For higher-risk defendants, the State can move for pretrial detention. Id. at -19(a). After a hearing, if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that no combination of conditions of release would reasonably guard against the risk of danger, flight, or obstruction that a defendant poses, the person is held in custody pretrial. Id. at -18(a)(1).

In recent years, approximately 19 percent of defendants charged by complaint have been ordered detained. Annual Report to the Governor and the Legislature 2020 at 32 (20.1 percent); Annual Report to the Governor and the Legislature 2019 at 29 (17.6 percent); Annual Report to the Governor and the Legislature 2018 at 36 (19.5 percent).2 In tandem with other reform efforts, the pretrial jail...

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