Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NJ Supreme Court Overturns Murder Sentence Because of Judge’s Comments

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned a 60 year prison sentence in a murder case because the judge who had done the sentencing said during another, unrelated case “I always give defendants convicted by a jury a minimum of 60 years … and you can check my record.”

The Supreme Court said this was not okay because judges are supposed to make the sentences they give out match the crime that the defendant was convicted of, not just pick out a random number. This case has a lot of people wondering if the sentences they or their loved ones received were fair, or just a number the judge likes.

Read more . . .

Monday, March 28, 2016

Court Decides Gag Order Not Necessary in Lodzinski Murder Case

Should the defense attorney been prohibited from speaking with the press in this case?

A gag order, also known as a protective or suppression order, is used to stop those involved in legal matters from speaking publicly about a case. Gag orders are usually used in high profile cases to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial free from bias created by the public’s prior knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the matter. In a current New Jersey criminal case that is receiving a lot of media attention the prosecution has asked that the defense be prevented from speaking to the press.

In 1991, Read more . . .

Thursday, February 25, 2016

4 Key Defense Issues Exposed in ‘Making a Murderer’

By now, most have seen (or at least heard of) the controversial docu-series entitled Making a Murderer, which is featured on the streaming television service Netflix. While the documentary has been criticized and heralded alike (depending on who you ask), it has at the very least exposed several issues common to homicide defense that we strive to eliminate every day. The following takes a brief look at four of the most common defense obstacles as highlighted in Making a Murderer, followed by sound advice if you are unfortunately facing a similar plight.

            #1: Unsecured crime scenes -- Over and over, the defense in Making a Murderer pointed to the fact the local law enforcement officials -- who were directed not to conduct the investigation due to conflicts of interest -- entered and tromped around the alleged crime scenes close to one dozen times, often rearranging vital evidence and potentially dragging in contaminants from other areas. As defense attorneys, we work tirelessly to ensure our clients are not implicated by evidence that may or may not have been present at the crime scene at the time of the alleged incident, and will strenuously object to the introduction of any evidence possibly tainted by an unsecured crime scene.

            #2: Evidence tampering -- In the documentary, blood evidence was discovered in storage that had presumably been tampered with -- as evidenced by the broken seal and puncture mark at the top of the vial. In Making a Murderer, the theory was that law enforcement stole the sample (which was from a 1980’s rape case) in order to plant the defendant’s blood around the crime scene. However, evidence tampering can also occur in more innocuous settings, such as in the testing and sampling of seized drugs or in the blood alcohol testing of a DUI suspect. Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, evidence of tampering will not be tolerated and we will similarly strenuously object to an attempts to introduce biological evidence that may be compromised.

            #3: Lack of counsel -- Perhaps one of the most startling aspects of the Making a Murderer timeline is the aggressive interrogation tactics implemented to garner a confession from a minor child with a limited IQ. Not only did the child not have counsel present, but his parent was not allowed in the room either. As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we know our clients’ rights to counsel -- particularly when the interrogation suspect is of limited cognition or a minor. Any “confessions” gleaned using these tactics are, under the law, not admissible in court -- and we will argue as such as strenuously as possible.

             #4: Prosecutorial issues -- Since the defendant’s trial, the prosecutor has since been disbarred for engaging in inappropriate communications with a victim in a subsequent domestic violence case. However, before and during the Making a Murderer trial, there was questionable conduct by the prosecutor involved, as well as his team of investigators. If we ever suspect such misconduct, we will work diligently to alert the court and take the appropriate steps to mitigate the issue.

Contact an experienced homicide defense attorney today!  If you are facing serious felony charges, please contact the experienced professionals of Sitzler Law in New Jersey today: 609-267-1101. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

N.J. Jury Upholds 'Cold Case' Murder Conviction

Is there a statute of limitations in New Jersey for homicide?

Across the civil and criminal laws, there are a number of statutes of limitation that limit the amount of time a plaintiff or complainant has to initiate a legal proceeding. In the civil context, a plaintiff has just two years from the date of a personal injury to make a claim in negligence. Under criminal laws, the state is limited to five years for crimes like burglary, assault, or arson. However, when it comes to the most severe crimes – including murder, manslaughter, and most sex crimes – there is no applicable statute of limitations, and so-called “cold cases” may be prosecuted and resolved any number of years after the occurrence of the incident.

Appeals Court Upholds Conviction

In late December, 2015, the New Jersey Court of Appeals considered an appeal from a criminal defendant facing 50 years in prison following his conviction for stabbing a 22-year-old female to death. The incident occurred nearly 15 years ago, but the defendant was not brought to trial until October, 2013 – primarily due to advances in DNA analysis technology not yet available at the time of the murder.

On appeal, the defendant questioned several aspects of his trial, including the trial court’s decision to deny defense counsel the opportunity to interview a juror who had allegedly expressed “second thoughts” about the conviction. According to the defendant’s counsel, the juror contacted the court five days after the verdict was rendered, detailing her hesitation in sentencing the defendant to 50 years in prison.

Court Overrules Juror Misconduct Argument

Despite the defendant’s strenuous objections to the denial, the appellate court upheld the conviction – citing the heightened threshold for post-conviction interviews of jurors. According to the court’s opinion, “only if there is a strong showing of juror misconduct should interrogation of a juror be allowed…Denial of a defense interview request in [this] case is not a cause for reversal of the conviction… [the court] found no suggestion of outside influence, racial prejudice, media exposure or other irregular influences….” – any of which could have resulted in a dismissal of a criminal conviction in New Jersey.

If you have been charged with committing, or are under investigation, you should promptly contact an experienced criminal attorney to discuss your case and review your options.  

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.

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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Violence Erupts at Mother’s Day Event in Newark

What charges will the suspect probably face?

Every Mother’s Day, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts get together to celebrate the warm weather and the beginning of the riding season at an event called “The Blessing of the Bikes.” This year, as the event was drawing to a close, gunshots rang out injuring three people and killing 15 year old Al-Shakeen Woodson.  

It is not clear whether the Newark Knights Motorcycle Club, who organized the event, had obtained the proper permits to hold the celebration.  It is also unclear who the intended target of the shooting was, although it is unlikely that it was 15-year-old Woodson as “He never got in trouble,” his father said, “He just came over here to watch the bikes.”

While the mayor’s office blamed the size of the event, others indicated that reason is not a factor when discussing senseless violence.  The police, who were present at the event, are currently seeking at least two gunmen.  The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives spoke on the matter, “The investigation is active.  We are combing the streets.  We are out there at the scene right now looking for evidence and looking for witnesses to come forward.”  This is the 29th homicide so far this year in Newark.

This is a high profile case and the police are under significant pressure to find a suspect and get a conviction as our criminal justice system places the burden of proof of guilt on the prosecution.  Only an experienced defense attorney can make sure that you receive a fair trial if you stand accused of a violent crime.  If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, call the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Sitzler and Sitzler at (609) 267-1101 today.  

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