Fair NJ DWI Trial

A Texas Appeals Court denied the appeal of Charles Dean Hood, a Texas death row inmate. The defense argued that the trial was tainted because the trial Judge was having a romantic affair with the prosecutor.

The defense argued that the affair tainted the trial, and resulted in “obvious and outrageous violations” of Hood’s constitutional rights. “No one would want to be prosecuted for a parking violation — let alone for capital murder — by a district attorney who is sleeping with the judge,” one of Hood’s attorneys said. “We are outraged by this breakdown in the integrity of the justice system. … Mr. Hood is entitled to a new trial before an impartial judge and a fair prosecutor.”

Many former prosecutors and federal and state judges, after hearing about the affair, signed a letter sent to the Governor stating that the sexual relationship “would have had a significant impact on the ability of the judicial system to accord Mr. Hood a fair and impartial trial.”

The Texas Court ruled that Hood’s attorneys should have brought the issue to the Court’s attention sooner. However, Hood’s attorneys explained that they could not because the affair was kept secret. The affair was apparently an open secret – and Hood’s trial lawyers heard rumors and innuendos about the affair.

Apparently everything is bigger in Texas, including the injustice. The constitution ensures criminal defendants a fair and impartial trial. This right is embodied in the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution which provides that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” My Criminal law Professor defined “due process” as simply “fundamental fairness.”

In New Jersey, a DWI is regarded as a traffic violation; however, the same protections that apply to a criminal defendant apply to a NJ DWI Defendant. In this regard, a DWI is often referred to as “quasi-criminal.” A Defendant is entitled to a fair trial before an impartial judge. New Jersey Court Rule 1:12 provides that a “judge of any court shall be disqualified … when there is any … reason which might preclude a fair and unbiased hearing and judgment, or which might reasonably lead counsel or the parties to believe so.”

It is clear that if a Judge is sleeping with the Prosecutor, the Judge should not hear any cases prosecuted by her lover. Even if she could somehow put her blinders on and disregard the intimacy between her and the Prosecutor, under New Jersey law, that would not be enough. Under New Jersey Law, a “judge … shall be disqualified … when there is any … reason which might preclude a fair and unbiased hearing and judgment, or which might reasonably lead counsel or the parties to believe so.” The appearance of bias alone warrants disqualification.

The Texas case is disturbing. Even assuming that the trial lawyers knew about the affair (and they could therefore have raised the issue before the trial), the Defendant’s Constitutional rights were still violated. The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures defendants the right to effective legal counsel. The trial was clearly tainted by a Judge who appeared biased. The failure to move to disqualify the Judge by trial counsel deprived the defendant of a fair trial. This is certainly a troubling case and ruling.

Greggory M. Marootian, Esq.

NJ DWI Appeal

I am currently handling an interesting dwi appeal. My client was convicted of his second dwi in Municipal Court after a trial. He was sentenced to, among other things, a two-year loss of his driver’s license. He hired an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer then passed the file off to an associate; a young attorney who had only recently graduated law school and passed the bar examination. The trial ended in a guilty verdict, but I believe the case could have been won with more effective defense.

The trial transcript was painful for me to review. The young lawyer was completely out-classed by an experienced and savvy prosecutor. Moreover, the defense lawyer made fundamental errors in his defense. For instance, he asked questions during cross examination that served only to bolster the State’s case. The State’s case went in very weak. Rather than limiting his questioning, his questions allowed the State’s witnesses to set forth damaging testimony against the defendant and clarify what was otherwise neutral testimony. This was one of several fundamental trial error I believe were made.

I got the impression that the lawyer was working off of a script of sorts, and rather that taper the questioning around the testimony, he stuck to his script. It was unfortunate that this young lawyer was sent out to “cut his teeth” on a case with such severe consequences to my client.

I am a baseball fan. Many games are won on pure “fundamentals.” Similarly, trials are often won or lost on pure fundamentals. The State has the burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt – the defense has no obligation to assert a defense, and the defendant has a constitutional right to remain silent. Very often, clients want to know what the defense “strategy” will be – what the “game plan” if you will is even before the State’s case is reviewed. The best strategy has to hinge on knowing the pure fundamentals – in the game of criminal defense (and dwi defense), the fundamental principle is that the State has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they have not met the elements, game over; the defense wins. If they have not proven the elements, do not pursue a defense strategy that will allow them to do so.

New Jersey DWI Defense Lawyer Greggory M. Marootian, Esq.