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NJ Conviction Reversed After Defendant Excluded From Trial

09
Apr
2010

by in Criminal Appeals

State v. Michael Stuart, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-5060-06T4 (March 30, 2010) – Conviction reversed. “Based on one disruptive incident that occurred before the judge charged the jury, defendant was excluded from the courtroom during the court’s charge to the jury and for the entire period of deliberations.

Despite defense counsel’s request shortly after defendant’s initial removal, the judge did not bring defendant back to court to address him as to whether defendant was prepared to behave appropriately if allowed to return to trial…. Our concern for this defendant’s exclusion from the trial turns on the unusual facts of this case.

In a statement to the police, defendant admitted that he asked the store clerk for money, but denied that he ‘announced a robbery.’ He also denied having a gun or pretending to be armed with a gun during the robbery. The witnesses testified that defendant said he had a gun and threatened to shoot the owner.

But those allegations did not appear in any of the reports of the police officers who spoke to those witnesses…. In short, in the context of this case, we cannot conclude that defendant’s continued exclusion form the trial was harmless error. The jury obviously had questions about the case, as evidenced by its extensive requests for read backs.

And the consequence of the jury’s verdict could not be overstated. At age thirty-three, defendant faced life in prison without parole. On this set of facts, we conclude that defendant’s continuing exclusion from the courtroom, without giving him any further opportunity to repudiate his improper conduct and return to the trial, was plain error mandating reversal of his conviction.” See also SENTENCING – MISCELLANEOUS. (Amira R. Scurato, A.D.P.D.)

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