State v. S.J.C.

Citation471 N.J.Super. 608,274 A.3d 688
Decision Date28 April 2022
Docket NumberDOCKET NO. A-1162-21
Parties STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-respondent, v. S.J.C., Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division

Austin J. Howard, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Austin J. Howard, of counsel and on the briefs).

Lucille M. Rosano, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Theodore N. Stephens II, Acting Essex County Prosecutor, attorney; Lucille M. Rosano, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Messano, Rose, and Marczyk.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

ROSE, J.A.D.

On leave granted, defendant S.J.C. appeals from a trial court order, denying his pretrial motion to dismiss an Essex County indictment that charges him with two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault by penile-vaginal penetration, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1), and two counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(1). The indictment was returned four months after the East Orange Police Department (EOPD) issued complaint-warrants; seven years after the alleged victim, I.C. (Inna), reported the crimes to the EOPD; and fourteen years after the last incident allegedly occurred. Inna, who was five and six years old at the time of the two alleged incidents, is defendant's biological daughter.

Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, asserting the State's delay in bringing the case before the grand jury violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Defendant also claimed the indictment, and the State's ensuing response to his bill of particulars, failed to provide sufficient notice of the dates and locations of the sexual assaults under the criteria established in State in the Interest of K.A.W., 104 N.J. 112, 515 A.2d 1217 (1986).

Following oral argument, the motion judge reserved decision and thereafter issued a written opinion, rejecting defendant's arguments. The judge then stayed his accompanying November 4, 2021 order, pending defendant's application for interlocutory relief.

On appeal, defendant abandons his speedy trial argument, focusing instead on his remaining claims. More particularly, defendant presents the following points for our consideration:

POINT I
THE SEVEN-YEAR-OLD PROSECUTION OF DEFENDANT VIOLATES DUE PROCESS UNDER STATE V. TOWNSEND [, 186 N.J. 473, 897 A.2d 316 (2006)] BECAUSE THE STATE'S DELAY WAS RECKLESS AND CAUSED ACTUAL PREJUDICE TO THE DEFENSE. U.S. Const. amend. XIV ; N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 1.
A. Defendant Satisfies Townsend's First Prong Because the State's Delay Was Reckless; the Trial Court Erred by Requiring Proof of Bad Faith.
B. Defendant Has Established Actual Prejudice Under Townsend's Second Prong; the Trial Court Erred by Requiring Defendant to Document Specific Testimony from the Very Witnesses Who Can No Longer Be Found Because of the State's Delay.
POINT II
THE INDICTMENT MUST BE DISMISSED FOR FAILURE TO PROVIDE FAIR NOTICE OF WHEN AND WHERE THE OFFENSES ALLEGEDLY OCCURRED. U.S. Const. amend. XIV ; N.J. Const. art. I, ¶¶ 1, 10.
POINT III
FUNDAMENTAL FAIRNESS REQUIRES DISMISSAL BECAUSE THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF THE DELAYED PROSECUTION AND VAGUE INDICTMENT HAS SUBSTANTIALLY PREJUDICED DEFENDANT'S ABILITY TO MOUNT A FAIR DEFENSE. N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 1.

Because we conclude defendant failed to shoulder the heavy burden of demonstrating "actual prejudice" under the second Townsend prong, we conclude his due process rights were not violated by the State's delay in seeking the indictment and affirm the motion judge's decision in that regard. Accordingly, we need not address defendant's assertion under the first Townsend prong that the judge erred in requiring him to establish the State acted in bad faith. We nonetheless clarify the burden of proof required under the first Townsend prong.

Further, while we otherwise agree with the motion judge's analysis under K.A.W., we cannot discern from the record provided on appeal that the State discharged its obligation under K.A.W. We therefore remand the matter for further proceedings to address the contentions raised in point II.

Lastly, we decline – at this time – to address defendant's fundamental fairness argument raised in point III. Resolution of these contentions shall abide the results of our remand order.

Accordingly, we affirm in part, and reverse and remand in part.

I.

We summarize the pertinent facts from the limited record before us. On the evening of November 11, 2013, fourteen-year-old Inna accompanied her mother, K.K. (Kim), to the EOPD. Inna told police defendant had sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions when she was between the ages of five and nine or ten. That same evening, the lead detective contacted the Essex County Prosecutor's Office (ECPO) and was instructed "to obtain audio/video statements from [Inna and Kim]."2

Inna could not recall all the details of every incident but said the first sexual assault occurred when she was five years old at "Mr. Billy's Mechanic Shop," where her father had been employed as a mechanic. The shop "w[as] located between 404 and 406 Central Avenue in the rear of this location." Inna stated defendant "walked her upstairs from the mechanic shop to an isolated area" comprised of "a small room with a bed and a small bathroom with a window." Inna described the acts, including forceful vaginal-penile penetration that caused her pain and made her cry. She claimed defendant ejaculated "but not inside her." Defendant cleaned and dressed Inna after the assaults occurred and "told her not to tell anyone about what happened, especially her mother."

Inna also reported defendant sexually assaulted her at his friend's apartment located at 94 Linden Avenue. Inna said defendant "removed her pants and underwear, pulled a blanket over them to cover them from view, and penetrated her vagina with his penis." She described the apartment's residents as "an older female, her teenage son, and a younger female in her [twenties]."

Inna did not recall their names

"or any other information regarding these persons," but claimed they neither witnessed nor were aware of the incidents. The younger woman bathed Inna after the sexual assaults, but "never witnessed the incidents." Inna told police she was six years old when the abuse occurred at this apartment.

Kim reported she always had legal custody of Inna and confirmed she had driven Inna to the mechanic shop and 94 Linden Avenue to spend time with defendant when the child was between the ages of five and ten. As of the date of Kim's interview, the mechanic shop "[wa]s no longer owned by the same proprietor, who[m] she only knew as ‘Billy.’ " Kim claimed defendant's grandmother resided at 94 Linden Avenue. Kim had no contact with defendant since January 2010; "later that year she read an article on the internet" that defendant had been "arrested in Pennsylvania for sexually assaulting seven children."3

The following day, on November 12, 2013, the lead detective faxed the incident reports and related documents to the ECPO Special Victim's Unit (SVU). The EOPD closed its case "[p]ending ECPO [r]eview." According to the motion judge: "At the time, [the] ECPO was investigating [d]efendant for separate sexual assault offenses that allegedly occurred in Newark in 1996. On February 7, 2014, [the] ECPO authorized both Newark and East Orange municipalities to file charges against [d]efendant based on the allegations." However, the record on appeal does not contain any documentary evidence memorializing the prosecutor's February 7, 2014 authorization of charges.4

Rather, the EOPD reports contained in the record indicate it was not until February 5, 2021 that the SVU authorized the EOPD to file aggravated sexual assault and child endangerment charges against defendant, and February 12, 2021 that the EOPD filed the complaint-warrants. Later that month, defendant was arrested in Pennsylvania and thereafter extradited to New Jersey.

In June 2021, the State presented the charges to the grand jury through the SVU detective, who essentially summarized the statements made by Inna and Kim to the EOPD in November 2013.5

Neither Kim nor Inna testified before the grand jury, and the State did not introduce into evidence their recorded statements. The State limited the time frame of the allegations to 2004 through 2006, when Inna was five and six years old. The grand jury returned an indictment reflecting "various" incidents of abuse that had occurred during that two-year time frame.

Shortly thereafter, defendant moved for a bill of particulars pursuant to Rule 3:7-5, seeking information from the State concerning "the dates, times, and alleged circumstances of the charges ... to enable [him] to prepare a defense."6 The State responded by narrowing the multiple incidents referenced in the indictment to two acts, which allegedly occurred at: (1) Mr. Billy's Mechanic Shop, sometime when Inna was five years old (counts one and two); and (2) 94 Linden Avenue, another time when Inna was age six (counts three and four).

At oral argument before the motion judge, defense counsel argued the locations of the alleged incidents no longer existed. Counsel explained a church, located at either the 404 or 406 address, existed at the time the alleged acts were committed and when Inna reported them. He presumed church staff, parishioners, or missioners "possibly" could have verified whether the mechanic shop existed at the location or provided information about other potential witnesses associated with the shop. Counsel also argued had defendant known about the incidents that allegedly occurred at 94 Linden Avenue at the time Inna reported the crimes, he could have obtained a certification from a City of East Orange employee, verifying that the address "did not exist." Counsel acknowledged...

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