In a recent decision, a panel of three judges for the state’s appellate court upheld a prior ruling that any information collected about a confidential witness who is set to testify in a drug case should be handed over to the defense. This information includes not only correspondence and other material from the case in which the witness is testifying now, but also information from all other cases in which the witness has given testimony or been involved.
State v. Hernandez
In the case in question, State v. Hernandez, Lixandra Hernandez and Jose Sanchez were indicted on first, second and third-degree charges for cocaine sales. A confidential witness gave testimony that he had purchased cocaine from Hernandez and Sanchez on three separate occasions. This evidence was crucial to the jury’s determination of guilt. During the discovery process, the criminal attorneys for the defense were provided with the witness’ name, cooperation agreement with the state and his criminal background.
The witness agreed to provide “any and all information within his current knowledge…concerning the operation and conduct of the…Bloods street gang and any other street gangs, including but not limited to criminal activities, perpetrators thereof, meeting places.” The defendants learned during their trial that the witness was testifying on other investigations and asked for further information on the witness.
Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez ordered the prosecution to turn over any additional information they had on the witness. The defense’s request included a privilege log with detailed information about internal emails, statements, investigation documents, and any taped recordings from the witness’ interviews.
In her ruling, Galis-Menendez said to the defense, “I think you have a right to do what you need to do to defend your client the best way…[including] enough information so that they can review and make their own determination as to whether they want to use it or not.” The appellate division supported Galis-Menendez’s ruling.
Attorney General Challenge
A challenge from the Attorney General’s Office stated that the appellate court’s decision was “an unprecedented expansion of [the] discovery rules.” Providing confidential witness information, the office said, could put the witness in harm’s way if he or she continued to cooperate with an investigation.
However, the appellate judges found that this argument had no merit because the witness’ information, including any personal, identifying information, had already been provided to the defense and it would not be an added burden for the attorney general’s office to perform the “required search through the state’s online databases, using…name, nickname, and criminal case numbers as search terms.”
Using Every Angle
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our New Jersey criminal lawyers will use every option available to defend our clients, including pertinent information about witnesses testifying against them. With the appellate court’s ruling, this information is not only easier to obtain, but more comprehensive to provide a better ability to defend. To get started on your defense, contact an HCK attorney today.