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New Jersey Criminal Trial Error Update


by in Criminal Defense

In this case, the NJ Appellate Division reversed the defendant’s conviction after deciding that the trial judge allowed unfairly prejudicial testimony to be presented to the jury.

State v. Amidou Kabre, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-4393-07T4 (December 22, 2009) – Conviction reversed. “Defendant asserts … that the testimony presented by Officer Kempf, in which the officer described the contents of defendant’s black bag and suggested to the jury that defendant was part of conspiracy to illegally export stolen vehicles, should have been excluded as unduly prejudicial.

In particular, defendant maintains that the judge should not have permitted Kempf to testify about the business cards for salvage dealers, insurance companies and locksmiths.

Defendant also contends that the judge should not have permitted Kempf to opine that these documents ‘showed a clear trail,’ and that ‘if somebody gets a salvaged vehicle, switch[es] the VIN plate with a stolen vehicle, puts that vehicle on a ship and sends [it] overseas, it shows a greater conspiracy.’…

In our view, the evidence of the fifty business cards for salvage companies, locksmiths and insurance companies, as well as the salvage titles for a number of other vehicles, were enormously prejudicial. No reasonable juror hearing such evidence could come to any conclusion other than that defendant was involved in the business of exporting stolen vehicles out of the country.

While a juror may not himself or herself have drawn such an inference merely from a listing of the items found in defendant’s black bag, any doubt that a juror may have had about whether defendant was involved in criminal activity was laid to rest by Kempf’s comment that there was ‘a trail here,’ because such documents are used when ‘stolen vehicles get VIN plates … and get shipped out of the country.’…

[E]ven though the probative value of the evidence was strong, its prejudice was even greater. Nothing could be more damaging than evidence that defendant is a criminal involved in a wide-ranging scheme to prey upon innocent victims, steal their property, and ship it out of the country for profit. We thus conclude that the prior bad acts evidence in question should not have been admitted because its probative value was exceeded by its prejudice.” (Donald F. Browne, Jr.)

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