State v. Muhammad

Citation678 A.2d 164,145 N.J. 23
Parties, 65 USLW 2123 STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant and Cross-Respondent, v. Rasheed MUHAMMAD, Defendant-Respondent and Cross-Appellant.
Decision Date28 June 1996
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)

John S. Redden, Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor, for appellant and cross-respondent (Clifford J. Minor, Essex County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Redden and Hilary Brunell, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the briefs).

Stephen W. Kirsch, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, for respondent and cross-appellant (Susan L. Reisner, Public Defender, attorney).

Catherine A. Foddai, Deputy Attorney General, for amicus curiae Attorney General of New Jersey (Deborah T. Poritz, Attorney General, attorney).

Marianne Espinosa Murphy, Newark, for amicus curiae New Jersey Coalition of Crime Victims (Tompkins, McGuire & Wachenfeld, attorneys).

Boris Moczula, First Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor, for amicus curiae New Jersey County Prosecutors' Association (Sharon B. Ransavage, President, attorney).

Jean D. Barrett, West Orange, for amicus curiae Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey (Crummy, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, Newark, and Ruhnke & Barrett, Newark, attorneys; Ms. Barrett, Lawrence S. Lustberg, and James E. Ryan, on the brief).

Richard D. Pompelio, Succasunna, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Pamela McClain.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


At issue in this appeal is whether the New Jersey victim impact statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(6), is constitutional under the Federal and State Constitutions. We hold that the victim impact statute is constitutional under both Constitutions.


Defendant is charged with the kidnapping, rape, and murder of an eight-year-old child, Jakiyah McClain. On the afternoon of April 1, 1995, Jakiyah received permission from her mother to visit a friend, Ah-Tavia Maxey, who lived only a few blocks away. Jakiyah arrived at her friend's apartment between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. She asked Ah-Tavia's father if the two girls could play outside with one another. Mr. Maxey refused to give them permission and instead told them to go upstairs to the Maxey's apartment and ask Ah-Tavia's mother for permission.

While Jakiyah and Ah-Tavia were talking, defendant entered the apartment building. He volunteered to walk Jakiyah upstairs. He knew Jakiyah's mother. Ah-Tavia watched defendant take Jakiyah's hand and lead her upstairs. Ah-Tavia apparently remained on the ground floor. Shortly after, Ah-Tavia heard kicking, banging, and the sound of Jakiyah's screams.

When Jakiyah failed to return home that evening, her mother began to search for the child. After she was unable to locate Jakiyah, the mother at approximately 11:00 p.m. filed a missing person's report with the Newark Police Department. The next day, the police went to the apartment building where Jakiyah was last seen. They were told by the building superintendent that defendant had been given permission to stay in an abandoned apartment. When the police knocked on the door of the apartment, defendant answered and allowed them to enter. The police found Jakiyah's body, curled in a fetal position with her underpants around one ankle, under a pile of clothes in the bedroom closet. Ah-Tavia Maxey identified defendant as the man she saw the day before with Jakiyah.

Defendant was taken into custody. He gave a statement to the police in which he admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering Jakiyah. An autopsy of the victim indicated that the cause of death was asphyxiation and that the victim was sexually assaulted.

On June 27, 1995, an Essex County Grand Jury indicted defendant for the capital murder of Jakiyah McClain, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1), (2). Defendant was also indicted on charges of first-degree kidnapping, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1b(1); second-degree burglary, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; first-degree aggravated sexual assault of a child, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:14- Y and felony murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3). The State served notice of four aggravating factors: that the murder involved torture, aggravated assault or depravity of mind, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(c); that the murder was committed to escape detection or apprehension for another offense committed by defendant, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(f); that the murder was committed during the course of another felony, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(g); and that the victim was less than fourteen years old, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(k).

Defendant brought a pretrial motion, challenging the constitutionality of the victim impact statute under both the New Jersey and United States Constitutions. The trial court granted defendant's motion and declared the statute unconstitutional under both Constitutions. State v. Muhammad, No. 2285-6-95 (Law Div. Nov. 17, 1995). The trial court found the statute to be "irremediably defective" and held that it was "inconsistent with existing rules of evidence and procedure and the guarantees of due process under the [C]onstitutions of this State and of the United States." Id. slip op. at 1-2. The trial court, however, declined to reach the broader question of whether the New Jersey Constitution prohibits the use of victim impact evidence. The court did, however, reject defendant's argument that the application of victim impact statute to defendant would violate the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the State and Federal Constitutions. Id. slip op. at 16-17.

We granted the State's motion for direct certification pursuant to Rule 2:12-2, and also granted defendant's motion for leave to cross-appeal the trial court's ex post facto ruling.


On June 19, 1995, Governor Whitman signed into law L.1995, c. 123; N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(6), commonly known as the victim impact statute. That law provides that:

When a defendant at a sentencing proceeding presents evidence of the defendant's character or record pursuant to subparagraph (h) of paragraph (5) of this subsection, the State may present evidence of the murder victim's character and background and of the impact of the murder on the victim's survivors. If the jury finds that the State has proven at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt and the jury finds the existence of a mitigating factor pursuant to subparagraph (h) of paragraph (5) of this subsection, the jury may consider the victim and survivor evidence presented by the State pursuant to this paragraph in determining the appropriate weight to give mitigating evidence presented pursuant to subparagraph (h) of paragraph (5) of this subsection.

[ N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(6).]

The victim impact statute is merely one of the latest efforts by the Legislature to increase the participation of crime victims in the criminal justice system. In 1971, the Legislature enacted the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act of 1971, N.J.S.A. 52:4B-1 to -33. In 1985, the Legislature enacted the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights, N.J.S.A. 52:4B-34 to -38, which granted crime victims and witnesses certain rights, including the right to be treated with dignity, the right to be informed about the criminal justice process, and the right to be told about available remedies and social services. The following year, the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 2C:44-6 to allow family members of murder victims to include a written statement in the defendant's presentence report. In 1991, the Legislature amended the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights to provide victims with the opportunity to submit to a representative of the county prosecutor's office a written statement about the impact of the crime on the family and to allow victims to make in-person victim impact statements in non-capital cases directly to the sentencing court. N.J.S.A. 52:4B-36.

Finally, on November 5, 1991, the New Jersey electorate overwhelmingly approved Article I, paragraph 22 of the New Jersey Constitution, which is better known as the Victim's Rights Amendment.

The Victim's Rights Amendment provides:

A victim of a crime shall be treated with fairness, compassion and respect by the criminal justice system. A victim of a crime shall not be denied the right to be present at public judicial proceedings except when, prior to completing testimony as a witness, the victim is properly sequestered in accordance with law or the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey. A victim of a crime shall be entitled to those rights and remedies as may be provided by the Legislature. For the purposes of this paragraph, "victim of a crime" means: a) a person who has suffered physical or psychological injury or has incurred loss of or damage to personal or real property as a result of a crime or an incident involving another person operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and b) the spouse, parent, legal guardian, grandparent, child or sibling of the decedent in the case of a criminal homicide.

[N.J. Const. art. I, p


The Victim's Rights Amendment explicitly authorizes the Legislature to provide victims with "those rights and remedies" that are deemed appropriate to effectuate the purpose of that amendment. On the basis of that constitutional authority, and relying on the United States Supreme Court's elimination of a federal constitutional bar against the admissibility of victim impact evidence in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 111 S.Ct. 2597, 115 L.Ed.2d 720 (1991), the New Jersey Legislature enacted the victim impact statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(6).

The various victims' statutory rights enacted in this State are the product of a "victims' rights" movement that has swept through this nation over the last two decades. Historically, the legal system did not view crime victims as having any rights. Andrew J. Karmen, Who's Against Victims' Rights? The Nature of the Opposition to Pro-Victim Initiatives in Criminal Justice, 8 St. John's J. Legal Comment. 157 (1992)....

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