In a recent decision, the state appeals court overturned a prior conviction for a New Jersey man charged with second-degree robbery. The ruling is based on the police department’s failure to properly maintain interrogation records and produce them on demand, as is required by state laws. Criminal lawyers in New Jersey say that Davon Cody will have a new trial as a result of the court’s decision.
In 2008, Cody was accused of punching a woman in the face and stealing her purse near the Bridgewater Commons mall. He was convicted of second-degree robbery. Police testified that Cody confessed to the robbery at police headquarters on video, but the taped confession was never brought as evidence in trial. The video recorder had been set to the wrong channel, recording the news instead of Cody’s confession, and although the interrogation’s audio recording was transferred to the department’s computer, it was erased in a software upgrade.
The two detectives who had interviewed Cody wrote a summary of his testimony two weeks later, after discovering that no electronic records had been maintained. At the following trial, Somerset County Superior Court Judge Robert Reed allowed one of the detectives to testify about the alleged confession in place of the video or audio recording. Judge Reed ruled that the failure to record the interrogation was a mistake, but not done in bad faith or with dishonest intent on the part of the department.
The judge did caution the jury that there was no video recording of the custodial interrogation, which is required when a suspect is charged with enumerated crimes such as robbery. The victim could not positively identify Cody as her attacker, and the case was dependent on Cody’s alleged confession. The jury found him guilty, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. Cody appealed his sentence, claiming that the admission of testimony about his confession without the recorded evidence violated his right to present the jury with a complete defense at a fair trial.
The appellate judges ruled that this claim alone was not enough to overturn the conviction, but found that the judge’s remarks to the jury regarding the lack of evidence were prejudicial. He told the jury that a recorded confession would be best, but in its absence, the confession is not thrown out, and referred to other instances of similar scenarios. The appeals judges stated that Reed should not have told the jury about the determination to admit the evidence, in accordance with N.J.R.E. 104(c).
The appeals judges also found that Reed allowed testimony from Cody’s accomplice in the crime without a proper model jury charge. D.P., the co-defendant at the trial, testified about Cody’s connection to the robbery, which was the only real evidence tying him to the crime. Reed should have read “Testimony of a Cooperating Co-defendant of Witness” to the jury, and his failure to do so allowed the appeals court to overturn Cody’s conviction.
New Jersey criminal lawyers at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA represent anyone who has been denied the right to a fair trial or have been convicted of criminal activity without proper evidence.