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Defendants' Lawyers Can Allow Unrestricted Access to Media

June 28, 2013 | Posted In Criminal Law - Unrestricted Access to Media

The state high court voted to allow jurors unrestricted access to video and audio recordings of witness testimony and defendant statements, but only if the criminal attorneys in New Jersey allow it. Although this decision grants media access for juries, the court emphasized that they were not making changes to the official position on the use of video and audio playbacks. The jury is still not allowed “unfettered access” to any audio- or video-recorded statements during deliberations in the jury room.

In State v. A.R., A-63-11, the defendant, identified by his initials in the court documents, was accused of sexually assaulting his 9-year-old great-niece at an overnight family event in March of 2007. Both he and the victim gave video-recorded statements to police. The victim’s recorded statement details the incident, and names A.R. as the one who assaulted her. In his statement, A.R. admits to having “improper sexual contact” with the girl. During deliberations, the jurors asked to review these video recordings in the deliberation room. With unrestricted access, the jurors would be able to watch and re-watch the statements as many times as they liked while making their decisions.

A.R.’s New Jersey criminal attorney had no objection to the jury’s request. He equated the statements recorded on video with traditional paper statements that are marked as evidence in trial, and allowed in the deliberation room for juror review. But this access was revoked by Appellate Division judges, who ruled that the trial judge had erred in allowing the jurors unlimited playback on video footage. In a sexual assault case, a victim’s video testimony is especially powerful, and several viewings of the statement could compromise a juror’s ability to make a decision without prejudice. Video playback of statements and testimony should be done in “open court and under the supervision of the trial judge,” appeals court judges stated, citing State v. Burr (2008) and State v. Miller (2011) as precedents for these restrictions on video playback.

Despite these precedents, New Jersey criminal attorneys say that the appeals court has ruled in favor of the jury reviewing the tapes, because it appears that repeated playback in the deliberation room was part of the defense team’s strategy in A.R.’s case. The Appellate Court did not need to reverse A.R.’s conviction and order the defendant to stand trial again. In the high court’s official consensus, the judges stated that “[t]he trial error was plainly invited and does not warrant reversal of defendant’s conviction.” But the judges maintained that other trials in which access to unlimited playback is allowed by the defense attorney without a strategic plan would still be subject to the precedential laws. A.R. will not have to stand trial again, and will serve out the terms of his prison sentence for sexual assault.

The experienced criminal lawyers at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, represent criminals on trial, and are always open to exploring creative options that would help a defendant’s case.

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