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NJ Criminal Conviction Reversed

14
May
2010

by in Criminal Appeals

State v. Frank G. Dellisanti, ? N.J. ?, 2010 N.J. LEXIS 387 (April 27, 2010) – Convictions reversed. “Defendant Frank Dellisanti was on trial in Bergen County Superior Court when sheriff’s officers from another county arrived to arrest him for an unrelated probation violation…. [T]he record is barren of any indication that defendant voluntarily waived his right to be present during the concluding stages of his criminal trial [i.e., during answers to jury questions and the announcement of the verdict]….

We hold, in the exceptional circumstances presented here, that the wishes, preferences, or convenience of sheriff’s officers acting to arrest defendant during jury deliberations cannot be permitted to trump defendant’s right under Rule 3:16(b) to insist on being present through to the trial’s conclusion and the rendering of the verdict. Because the record does not establish that the Rule’s conditions for waiver were satisfied, we must conclude that defendant’s right to presence under Rule 3:16(b) was violated, unfairly, through no action of his own.

We therefore reverse and remand for a new trial because the proceedings that were allowed to occur here were defective and unjust…. [N]o decision of our Court has confronted a fact pattern akin to the present case, where a seemingly unwilling defendant was hauled from the courtroom by another vicinage’s law enforcement officers while awaiting the jury’s return from deliberating on his verdict, and thereby was deprived of the right, clearly granted him under Rule 3:16(b), to be present and face his jury when it returned its verdict….

Moreover, to promote compliance with the Rule’s salutary purposes and promises to criminal defendants in particular and to the public at large, we further hold that the trial court must ensure that a warrant from another jurisdiction does not prevent a defendant from being present during his trial. If a defendant wishes to waive his or her presence mid-trial due to the intercession of law enforcement officers of any jurisdiction, the defendant’s waiver must be on the record. The trial court must not cede control over his or her courtroom.”

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