On August 3, 2022, Monmouth County Superior Court Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton reversed the DWI, marijuana possession, and other traffic complaints issued by the Holmdel Police in 2016 against the defendant, Nedal Elfar. https://patch.com/new-jersey/holmdel-hazlet/dwi-conviction-overturned-based-holmdel-police-procedures-court
Judge Thorton found that the Holmdel police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court held that the police “had no probable cause to search the vehicle and seize … prescription bottles in the car or the trunk.” Because the search and seizure were unconstitutional, the evidence was suppressed.
The court also found that “the State failed to prove the defendant was intoxicated beyond a reasonable doubt.” Judge Thornton found that “multiple inconsistencies in the officers’ testimony create[d] reasonable doubt regarding whether the defendant was impaired.”
Defense counsel, Albert P. Mollo, Esq., who represented the defendant throughout the six-year odyssey, said that “[w]hat happened in this case was wrong, pure and simple… after six years, it has been made right.” Mollo said the case “also raises serious and legitimate questions about the systemic injustice that we see in the New Jersey municipal court system.”
In this case, the defendant endured six years of uncertainty and anxiety – of proverbial hell, until the Superior Court, as Mollo said, “made [it] right.” Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, 78, said that “courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks … against legislative encroachments” who must have an “independent spirit … essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty. Hamilton recognized that the “independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals.” Monmouth County Superior Court Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton exemplifies the “independent spirit … essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty … to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals.”
The larger question, systematic injustices in New Jersey Municipal Courts is well-recognized. The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Court Operations, Fines, and Fees, a 31-member Committee created by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (https://www.njcourts.gov/courts/assets/supreme/reports/2018/sccmcoreport.pdf), concluded that “the obligation of the municipal courts and its judges to adjudicate justice fairly and impartially without regard to external influences must be restored to the municipal courts.” The Committee recognized that “there is a crisis in the municipal court system due to a lack of confidence in the independence and integrity of the Judiciary by members of the bar and the public … there is a perception by the public that municipal court judges are influenced by the police and favor the police over the defendant.”
While it is refreshing to see the County (Superior) Court carefully review the Municipal Court ruling to reach a just result comporting with constitutional protections, it is unfortunate, and I feel saddened that Mr. Elraf had to endure six years of uncertainty, stress, embarrassment, and shame to achieve the correct and just result.