You Can’t Cross Examine A Map!

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Drug free zone (pd)In a case decided earlier last week, State v. Wilson, the New Jersey Supreme Court answered an interesting Constitutional Law question: Whether the admission into evidence of a map showing the designated 500-foot  "drug free zone" around a public park violated an accused's right, under both the U.S. Constitution and New Jersey Constitution, to be "confronted with the witnesses against him." The court held that maps like this do not violate the Confrontation Clause and, if properly authenticated, are admissible. The problem in Wilson, however, was that the map was not properly authenticated as a public record, therefore it was inadmissible hearsay. 

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him." The New Jersey Constitution contains an almost identical provision. "The Confrontation Clause affords a procedural guarantee that the reliability of evidence will be tested 'in a particular manner' through the crucible of cross-examination." As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Confrontation Clause provides that a "testimonial statement against a defendant by a non-testifying witness is inadmissible . . . unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine him or her." The threshold issue, therefore, is whether a statement is "testimonial."

The U.S. Supreme Court has "labored to flesh out what it means for a statement to be 'testimonial.'" It eventually arrived at the "primary purpose" test, which asks whether a statement has the primary purpose of "establishing or proving past events potentially relevant to a later criminal prosecution." If it does, then it is testimonial. If not, then it is not. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that statements made to police to assist them in responding to an "ongoing emergency," rather than to create a record for a future prosecution, are not testimonial. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court has wrestled with this "primary purpose" test as well. For example, in one case, police sent a defendant's blood to a private laboratory after a fatal car crash. Approximately 14 analysts performed a variety of tests on the blood. A supervisor at the lab then wrote a report concluding that the defendant's blood contained traces of cocaine and other drugs and that this "would have caused the defendant to be impaired an unfit to operate a motor vehicle." The State sought to admit the report, or statements from it, into evidence. The court refused, holding that the report was testimonial because its primary purpose was to "serve as a direct accusation against the defendant." Similarly, the court held, in a separate case, that the statements in an autopsy report were testimonial because the autopsy was conducted after a homicide investigation had begun, after the defendant was a suspect, and after he had spoken to police, and because the autopsy was conducted in the presence of the lead State investigator. Thus, the court held, the "primary purpose of the report was to establish facts for later use in the prosecution."

Continue reading “You Can’t Cross Examine A Map!”

On a warm summer’s evenin’, on a train bound for nowhere . . . is a dispute over insuring a stranger’s life

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Gambling

I know it is a little obvious, but I couldn't write a post about gambling without using lyrics from "The Gambler." Fortunately, the case this post discusses — Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada v. U.S. Bank National Association — is anything but obvious. Sun Life involved gambling on another person's life but not in a Deer Hunter, Russian roulette kind of way. In Sun Life, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit addressed the enforceability of an insurance policy that insured a stranger's life.

In Sun Life, Judge Posner began his decision by discussing the common law principle that "forbids a person to own an insurance policy that insures someone else's life unless the policy owner has an insurable interest in that life." A wife can have an insurable interest in her husband's or children's lives, a creditor can have an insurable interest in a debtor's life, but "you cannot own an insurance policy on the life of a stranger who you happen to know is in poor health and likely to die soon." The reason is that, by doing so, you are essentially gambling on another person's life, and gambling contracts are generally unenforceable as a matter of public policy. 

Continue reading “On a warm summer’s evenin’, on a train bound for nowhere . . . is a dispute over insuring a stranger’s life”

File for bankrupcty when you have enough assets to pay your debts, then hide some assets . . . what could go wrong?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Law book (pd)I don't usually post about bankruptcy or criminal law issues, but the facts from a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which involved both bankruptcy and criminal law issues, were too intriguing to ignore. 

In United States v. Free, defendant "made the bizarre decision to file for bankruptcy even though he had more than sufficient assets to pay his debts." Then, "having filed for bankruptcy unnecessarily, [he] hid assets worth hundred of thousands of dollars from the Bankruptcy Court." Not surprisingly, this led to criminal charges being brought against defendant and convictions for multiple counts of bankruptcy fraud. To make things even more odd, despite all of his "prevarications," defendant's creditors were paid in full from the bankruptcy estate. So, to summarize, defendant did not need to file bankruptcy but chose to do so, only to then defraud the Bankruptcy Court by hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets, but eventually paid "100 cents on the dollar" to his creditors.

The legal issue in the case was how to properly calculate "loss" under the Sentencing Guidelines, which increase a "fraudster's" recommended sentence based on the loss he causes, or intends to cause, his or her victims. The curious part about Free was that the victims, defendant's creditors, were paid in full, therefore they had not suffered any loss in the usual sense of the word.

In Free, plaintiff filed for bankruptcy in his capacity as as the sole proprietor of an electric company he owned. He also owned a company that specialized in the sale of vintage firearms, which would become a central part of his bankruptcy case. Free claimed that he filed for bankruptcy to stay the sheriff's sale of property he was on the verge of losing through foreclosure. When he filed, he identified more than $1 million in assets — property and personal property, including firearms — and almost $700,000 in liabilities.  He originally filed under Chapter 13, but the court converted it to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would liquidate his assets and distribute the proceeds to his creditors.

Continue reading “File for bankrupcty when you have enough assets to pay your debts, then hide some assets . . . what could go wrong?”

Indigent Corporations Are People Too! New Jersey Court Holds That Indigent Corporations Are Entitled To Appointed Counsel, Just Not Public Defenders

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Anyone who has watched Law & Order or any other police procedural probably knows the Miranda warnings by heart, including the part about the perpetrators having the right to an attorney and the right to have an attorney appointed to represent them if they cannot afford one. But, did you ever stop to consider whether an indigent corporation that is charged with a crime has the right to have counsel appointed to represent it? Probably not, right? (For me, it is hard to imagine Detective Lennie Briscoe (played by the great Jerry Orbach) slapping the cuffs on Enron and wise-cracking about their misuse of special purpose entities and mark-to-market accounting.) However, this question was recently addressed by the Appellate Division in an interesting opinion that offered a primer on both the history of the right to counsel under New Jersey Law and the public defender program before answering the question.

In State v. Western World, Inc., the defendant, Western World, Inc., was a corporation that operated “Wild West City,” which is, as the name suggests, a western heritage theme park. Western World was indicted in connection with a shooting that occurred during the reenactment of a gunfight. The indictment originally named Western World along with its president, one of its employees, and the entity that owned the land on which the theme park operated. In exchange for the dismissal of the indictment as to these other defendants, Western World agreed to plead guilty as an accomplice to one count of the indictment (third-degree unlawful possession of a handgun). As part of the plea agreement, Western World waived its right to appeal, except as to the “limited question of whether a carry permit was required by the actors under the facts of [the] case.” Western World was subsequently sentenced to one year of probation and required to pay a $7,500 fine. Western World was represented by private counsel throughout this process.

Approximately one month after Western World entered its guilty plea, its counsel wrote to the regional office of the Office of the Public Defender (“OPD”), indicating that Western World wanted to appeal the issue reserved for appeal as part of its plea agreement and also appeal the fine imposed upon it at sentencing. Counsel indicated that he would not be representing Western World because he had not been paid. He further indicated that the judge that accepted Western World’s plea indicated that it would be entitled to a public defender if it could not afford one, but that Western World had been “turned away by the Public Defender’s Office.”

 

Continue reading “Indigent Corporations Are People Too! New Jersey Court Holds That Indigent Corporations Are Entitled To Appointed Counsel, Just Not Public Defenders”