Is it common for a court to retry or “rehear” a murder case after a conviction and sentenced are imposed?
When it comes to a first degree murder conviction, courts like to get it right the first time. While New Jersey no longer imposes a capital (death) sentence, those convicted of first degree murder are almost always sentenced to life in prison – and some face no opportunity for parole or release. Accordingly, there may be an opportunity in extremely limited circumstances for an offender to seek a new trial or “rehearing” of the case – particularly in light of the unprecedented advances in forensic science over the past two decades.
In general, a new trial will only be an option if a defendant can advance exonerating evidence or is able to successfully appeal the fairness and/or impartiality of the original proceeding. In some older cases, defendants are able to rely on new DNA testing to conclusively prove they were not the culprit. In other cases, defendants can point to jury tampering, ineffective counsel, or unduly prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct to secure a retrial.
In one recent case out of Fairfield, New Jersey, a criminal defendant ultimately received a life sentence after several years of appeals, new trials, and dismissals concerning the death of a former girlfriend. The case began in 1997 when the defendant was dating the victim, who was subsequently found dead in the boys’ locker room at the couple’s high school. In 1999, the defendant received a 30-year prison sentence after the jury found he had killed the victim in a “fit of rage” – which is commonly referred to as a “heat of passion” killing and carries a lesser sentence than a first degree, premeditated murder conviction.
Following that successful appeal, the defendant was ordered a new trial, in which he was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter and released on time served. Nonetheless, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed the second conviction, as the New Jersey Appellate Division rejected all 20 of his arguments on appeal.