Burlington County, NJ Law Blog

Saturday, November 21, 2015

New Jersey Prison Population Has Greatly Decreased

How does New Jersey’s prison population rank relative to other states?

Recent reports have found that New Jersey’s prison population is decreasing at a greater rate than any other state besides Mississippi. This decline comes along with an even larger fall in the crime rate. Since the year 2000, New Jersey’s prison population has fallen 26 percent, and crime has fallen by 30 percent. Therefore, it is clear that lowering the prison population does not raise the crime rate. The significant decreases are linked to investments in alternative courts, like drug courts, and in mental health programs. At the present time, the majority of the incarcerated in New Jersey are violent offenders, instead of nonviolent offenders.

The stark decrease in both of these figures has drawn praise from around the country. Senator Cory Booker is pushing for a bill to reform mandatory minimum sentencing, and President Obama is making a visit to speak about the positive effects of these reforms. Governor Christie has spoken often about the plight of drug offenders in a system in need of change. Part of his platform in campaigning for the White House involves reforming our criminal justice system.

Taxpayers will see indirect benefits from this reduced crime rate, but also direct benefits, as a lower prison population means less taxpayer money spent on the prison system. Another direct benefit is to the prison infrastructure. Fewer inmates means a greater possibility of closing off unused sections of older prisons so that badly needed renovations can commence.

Some additional reforms that are now urged are:

• To decrease the use of solitary confinement
• To improve programs for prisoner reentry into society
• To change federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws
• To invest more in alternative programs (e.g. drug courts,and mental health programs

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, it is essential to contact an experienced attorney promptly in order to have the best possible outcome of your case.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Court Rehears 1997 Murder Case & Upholds Conviction

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.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Defense Lawyers: Their Role and Importance

Why should I retain and cooperate with my criminal defense attorney?

The justice system accords certain rights to criminal defendants. In a free country like the United States, you are wise to learn as much about the process as you can. One of the most important, if not the most important, part of the process is the right to be represented by an attorney. Nobody expects laypersons to understand the complex criminal law and criminal procedure law. Therefore, a knowledgeable and experienced attorney is crucial to the task of proving one’s innocence.

There are certain skills a defendant can expect the defense attorney to have mastered and a skilled defense attorney will also be able to educate the defendant about what to expect during the case. In addition, representation by an attorney earns the defendant the respect he or she deserves from the government.

Defense attorneys understand that the government has any burden of proof. In addition, the government’s burden of proof is the highest in the entire justice system - “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Such a high burden of proof can be used to the defendant’s advantage, but only if the defense attorney understands how the burden applies to the evidence available.

Defense attorneys master the extremely complex procedural rules governing the admissibility of evidence, especially which evidence is excluded by law. The defense attorney also knows the ins and outs of direct and cross examination of witnesses. This skill is best honed through experience. Last but not least, the defense attorney is able to properly screen and filter potential jurors to ensure the most fair and balanced jury possible.

Perhaps the defense attorney’s most important skill is handling plea deals. In the majority of criminal cases something called a “plea” will be offered by the prosecutor. Defense attorneys will be familiar with the strength of the criminal case and will be best able to determine whether the plea deal is fair, or whether the defendant deserves a better deal. Such a decision cannot possibly be made properly without appropriate training and experience. This is perhaps the most important reason to retain the best defense attorney available.

If you are looking for a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney in New Jersey, please call the Sitzler Law Firm at 609-267-1101.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Four Common Defenses of Drug Crimes in New Jersey

I am facing a criminal drug charge, what are the best defenses to consider?

As an experienced practitioner of criminal drug defense, I am aware that there are a number of evidentiary objections that may be raised in the preliminary stages prior to the trial itself. The following are four common defenses to drug crimes in New Jersey. There are, however, dozens more than may apply to your case:

#4: Improper Chain of Custody: When the police seize alleged contraband, such as drugs, weapons, or even diagnostic test results, this evidence must be stored safely and securely until the trial. More specifically, police and lab technicians must properly document the whereabouts of evidence every time it is transferred or moved – otherwise the risk of contamination or specimen confusion raises dramatically. If chain of command cannot be established, the contraband could be excluded.

#3: Wrongful Entry: In order for police to lawfully search your home, you must give consent for them to enter – otherwise, a warrant is required. It is insufficient for police to obtain consent from a houseguest or any other non-owner. Accordingly, any drug evidence seized as a result of a wrongful entry will likely be excluded.

#2: Improper Interrogation: Police use a number of techniques and tricks to interrogate a suspect without counsel present. One such way is to mince words over whether the “conversation” is actually an interrogation (when a suspect can invoke his right to counsel) or a mere interview. If asked, the police must unequivocally state whether the suspect is free to leave and, if not, must cease the interview if the suspect invokes his right to an attorney.

#1:  Improper Seizure: Police must have a warrant to seize evidence from your person or vehicle – subject to narrow exception. If you were stopped for seemingly no reason, and police demanded you exit the vehicle so a search could commence, this scenario likely in violation of your constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

If you are facing a criminal drug charge in New Jersey and would like to discuss your options, please contact Sitzler and Sitzler today: 609-267-1101.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Pivotal Warning on Expungement Requests

What is the current status of expungement laws in New Jersey?

Expungement of a criminal record is a somewhat complex process that can reap innumerable benefits for the former criminal defendant. In very limited circumstances, a former offender can have a minor criminal or juvenile matter permanently segregated from his or her record, thereby allowing for greater employment and/or academic opportunities. More specifically, an expungement allows for the segregation of records relating to arrests, charges and convictions. However, in light of a recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, expungements may now be more difficult to obtain for those who were involved in a repetitive or multi-component criminal event.

In a 5-2 decision reached in August, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an expungement is only possible in a situation involving a “single, uninterrupted” criminal event. The underlying cases involved two consolidated appeals, one involving the sale of marijuana to an undercover officer, and one involving a local developer offering a series of bribes to a town council. In the marijuana case, the defendant sold drugs on two separate occasions over a five-day period, whereas the developer engaged in bribery through several phone calls in a 48-hour period.

After both petitioners were denied their request for expungement, they appealed their cases through the New Jersey court system. At the heart of the matter was the language of the state expungement statute, which limits the expungement process to those who have not been convicted of any prior or subsequent crime. In considering this language, the court concluded that a defendant who was charged with multiple criminal counts – even if arising out of a single actual event – were precluded from eligibility for expungement. More specifically, expungement is only available for a defendant who has committed just one, singular criminal act, “not one or more crimes closely related in circumstances or in time.”

If you are facing a recent criminal charge, our team of professionals can help you possibly overcome the burdens of a criminal record. To make an appointment for a consultation, call Sitzler & Sitzler today: 609-267-1101.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Former NFL Star & Elderly Mother Convicted in New Jersey of Complex Mortgage Fraud Scam

Have there been any high-profile criminal convictions in New Jersey lately?

Following a three-week trial in Burlington, New Jersey, former NFL star Irving Fryar and his elderly mother were found guilty of second-degree theft and conspiracy charges stemming from a six-year home equity loan scam perpetrated by the team, involving the mother’s home. According to evidence presented at trial, the mother applied for six separate home equity loans on the same property over a six-day period, ensuring lending institutions would not be aware of the simultaneous applications. In total, the amount recovered by the defendants totaled nearly $840,000.

Fryar also applied for and received nearly $414,000 in mortgage funds secured by his home, which was actually owned by his mother. According to accounting documents, at least $200,000 of this amount was spent or has not been recovered.

In their defense, counsel for both defendants asserted that a lender/broker was actually behind the scam and masterminded the fraudulent transactions. Moreover, the defendants asserted that they were not aware that their activities were fraudulent, and they were acting solely at the direction of the alleged ringleader.

In addition to the loan scam evidence, the court heard testimony involving falsified employment and income records that were used  to qualify for the loans.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 2, 2015, at which point each defendant could face up to 10 years in prison. Fines associated with mortgage fraud can run as high as $150,000.

In a statement by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, “This verdict ensures that Mr. Fryar and his mother will face substantial prison time. Fryar had an illustrious career in professional football and became the pastor of a church, but those things don't mitigate the fact that he and his mother engaged in an elaborate criminal scheme to defraud seven banks of more than one million dollars.”

If you or a loved one presently face charges involving a financial or other crime and need to consult with a reputable criminal defense attorney about your legal options, please do not hesitate to contact Sitzler & Sitzler. Serving clients in Burlington County and all other counties in South Jersey, we can be reached at 609-267-1101.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Man Convicted & Sentenced to Life Imprisonment in New Jersey ‘Craigslist Killer’ Case

How is first degree murder differentiated from other types of homicides?

When it comes to a murder charge, mental intent is one of the hallmark elements for the prosecution to prove. Of course, there are varying levels of mental intent when it comes to committing a crime, ranging from accidental to deliberate – the latter of which is required in a first degree murder conviction.

Often, a prosecutor will charge a suspect with several degrees of homicide in order to ensure the jury is able to reach a decision on at least one of the indictments. If the mental intent element is shaky, or may be difficult to prove at trial, the state may include a lesser offense. In New Jersey, the following charges are available in any scenario involving the death of another person:

  • First degree murder: purposely or knowingly causing the death of another person, or causing serious bodily injury of another person that results in death.
  • Manslaughter as a result of reasonable provocation: homicide that occurs in the “heat of passion” without any cooling off period.
  • Aggravated manslaughter: action involving an extreme indifference to the value of human life
  • Reckless manslaughter: action involving a “conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would result [or] conduct grossly below the standard that a reasonable person would have followed under similar circumstances.”

In one recent case, a New Jersey man was killed after answering an advertisement on Craig’s List for an all-terrain vehicle. According to evidence presented at trial, the defendant lured the victim to his home for the purpose of committing an armed robbery, which he was alleged to have committed against other Craig’s List users. When the deal quickly went awry, the victim lost his life.

In his defense, the defendant asserted that the prosecution had arrested the wrong perpetrator, and a different individual was actually responsible for the crime. Nonetheless, the judge sentenced the defendant to the maximum possible sentence: life in prison.

If you are facing a homicide, assault, or similar indictment for a violent crime, please contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler serving clients all around southern New Jersey. We can be reached at 609.267.1101.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

‘Real Housewives’ Star Skirts "Son of Sam" Laws; Plans Return to Bravo Network From Behind Bars

What are “Son of Sam” laws? 

A review of current Son of Sam laws within New Jersey and elsewhere reveals a fascinating historical look at how these “gag laws” came to be, and how they have been consistently challenged under the First Amendment from a free speech perspective almost from the beginning.
Read more . . .

Friday, July 24, 2015

N.J. Police Officer Found ‘Not Guilty’ on 14 Counts of Misconduct Following DUI Arrest of State Assemblyman

What is the latest news regarding allegations of police misconduct in New Jersey?

In a ‘not guilty’ verdict of a staggering 14 charges of police misconduct, a Washington Township police officer has avoided certain termination and possible jail time in a case sparked by the DUI arrest of a state assemblyman. From a New Jersey criminal defense standpoint, this result highlights the importance of enlisting competent and experienced trial counsel from the outset – particularly when facing multiple charges or serious felony allegations. 

Details of high-profile misconduct trial

Following a trial spanning nearly one month – and punctuated by a ten-hour jury deliberation – the accused Washington Township officer was found not guilty of three counts of records tampering, three counts of falsifying records, three counts of false swearing, and five counts of official misconduct. 

The indictments came following a 2012 DUI arrest of Washington Township assemblyman Paul Moriarty – who has steadfastly maintained that the officer was specifically targeting him, did not follow procedure in the vehicle stop and had no actual reason to pull him over in the first place. The DUI charges against Moriarty were eventually dismissed with prejudice. However, during the misconduct trial, significant evidence was presented to suggest the officer had proper reasonable suspicion to pull the vehicle over, including testimony from another officer that she witnessed the assemblyman drunk at a local restaurant. 

Criminal procedure defense

Some of the main issues in the trial centered on whether the officer engaged in proper criminal procedure protocol at the outset of the incident, including a proper pull-over and the use of lawful arrest tactics. As a New Jersey criminal defense law firm, we work regularly with clients facing similar issues relating to possible police misconduct and ignorance of procedure laws. On successful motion, we are often able to obtain a suppression of any evidence derived from the improper procedure, which could lead to a total dismissal of the charges if the prosecution does not have any additional evidence against the accused. 

If you are facing a recent arrest or indictment, please do not hesitate to contact the criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler in Burlington County, New Jersey today: 609-267-1101. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

New Jersey Jury Convicts Man Following Harrowing Shooting on PATH Train

What is ‘aggravated assault’ under New Jersey law? 

In June, 2015, a jury sitting in Hudson County Superior Court convicted a 36-year old man of two counts of aggravated assault – as well as several other lesser offenses – following a frightening incident onboard a PATH train idling in the Jersey City New Port station on August 25, 2013.
Read more . . .

Monday, June 22, 2015

New Jersey State Police Ordered to Release Video Allegedly Depicting Assault

What happens if an alleged criminal perpetrator is subjected to unfair treatment by police in New Jersey? 

We are all aware of the old adage confirming all are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, however, criminal suspects are commonly subjected to punishment and brutality to a degree completely incongruent with the alleged crime – and the problem seems to be escalating across the United States. 

In New Jersey, police are not exempt from the rule that criminal suspects are to be treated fairly and safely for the duration of their arrest, holding, and incarceration period. In the event a police officer commits assaultive conduct against a suspect, the officer can – and should – be held to the same criminal standards as all other members of the civilian population, provided the maneuver in not considered self-defensive or in response to threats of force by a suspect. 

In one recent case involving both civil and criminal components, a New Jersey State police officer was indicted on criminal assault charges, as well as targeted civilly by the state’s Advance Media, following an incident of brutality – the details of which are discussed below. 

NJ Police Officer Ordered to Turn Over Dashboard Camera 

In July 2014, a New Jersey state police officer arrested a suspect following a high-speed vehicle chase through the Newark area. Once the suspect was handcuffed and fully subdued, the officer allegedly kicked the suspect directly in his head with his boot. Following a tip, New Jersey’s Advance Media requested a copy of the dashboard camera that recorded the incident – presumably for purposes of exposing the alleged instance of brutality. After months of stalling, the state police eventually refused to release the video, citing to the ongoing investigation. 

In March, 2015, the officer involved in the incident was convicted of simple assault because of the incident. Shortly thereafter, Advance Media sued the state police in civil court demanding the disclosure of the tape under the Open Public Records Act. Finally, in June, 2015, the judge ordered the tape be released and concluded that a dashboard camera is not a protected “criminal investigatory record” akin to other types of records obtained following a criminal charge. More specifically, the judge highlighted that “State Police policy requires the officers to create dash cam recordings in motor vehicle stops.”

If you are concerned about a recent incident involving state or local police, or are in need of the immediate help of a criminal defense attorney, please do not hesitate to contact the Burlington County attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler today by calling (609)267-1101. 

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