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State v. Crandall

Decided: July 31, 1990.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHARD WILLIAM CRANDALL, JR., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT AND CROSS-APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 231 N.J. Super. 124 (1989).

For reversal and reinstatement -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Handler, J.

Handler

[120 NJ Page 651] Defendant, Richard Crandall, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, and endangering the welfare of a child. At his trial, the child victim testified via closed-circuit television, a procedure authorized by a recently-enacted statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32.4. A stated purpose of the statute is to protect young victims of criminal abuse from the effects of testifying in open court in the presence of the accused. This appeal challenges the constitutionality of that statute. We are asked to determine whether the procedure employed under the statute deprives a criminal defendant of the constitutional right to confront witnesses, the due-process right to a fair trial, and the right to a public trial. We conclude that the statute is constitutional, both facially and as applied.

I.

During the spring of 1984, L.V., a self-described alcoholic and drug abuser, overdosed and was admitted to Burlington County Memorial Hospital. She arranged for defendant, her friend, to care for her seven-year-old child, J.V., while she recovered. J.V. lived with the Crandalls until December 1984 when they moved to Florida and she was placed in a foster home.

In the spring of 1985, J.V. visited her mother, who was participating in a rehabilitation program at a halfway house. L.V. and J.V. planned to spend the night with a friend of L.V. J.V. was supposed to sleep alone in a room normally occupied by a male boarder. J.V., who knew that a male boarder normally slept in the room, became extremely upset when she was told to go to bed. In response to L.V.'s questions about her fearful reaction, J.V. explained for the first time that defendant had "hurt" her during her stay in defendant's home.

Subsequently, L.V. took her daughter to be examined by a physician, Dr. Janet Altaveer, who suspected sexual abuse. L.V. then reported the incident to the police, and defendant was charged with aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1); sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b); and fourth-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a).

The State moved, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32.4, for an order permitting the presentation of J.V.'s testimony via closed-circuit television. Defense counsel moved to dismiss the State's motion on the ground that the statute was unconstitutional, or alternatively, for an order compelling a psychiatric examination of J.V. The trial court ruled that the statute was constitutional but reserved decision on defendant's motion to compel a psychiatric examination of the victim.

The trial court held an in camera hearing to determine whether there was a substantial likelihood that J.V. would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court. J.V. testified in a room with counsel while the

judge and defendant viewed the proceeding on closed-circuit television.

The trial court found that "there would be substantial likelihood of severe emotional upset and psychological upset" and ruled that a psychiatric evaluation was not necessary for the court to reach that conclusion. It then granted the State's motion for the closed-circuit telecast of the victim's testimony at trial. Following a two-week trial, the jury found defendant guilty on all charges.

Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division determined that N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32.4 is constitutional, but remanded for a supplementary Evidence Rule 8 hearing for more specific findings concerning the likelihood of distress resulting from opencourt testimony. State v. Crandall, 231 N.J. Super. 124, 130, 134, 555 A.2d 35 (1989).

We granted the State's petition and, in part, defendant's cross-petition for certification. 117 N.J. 143, 564 A.2d 866 (1989).

II.

N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32.4 provides that a court may order the taking of testimony of a child witness by closed circuit television in certain cases, including those involving child abuse. Subsection (b) of the statute provides that in child-abuse prosecutions a court may order the use of closed-circuit television to telecast the testimony of a witness if it finds that "the witness is 16 years of age or younger and that there is a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court."

Defendant contends that the statute is unconstitutional, both facially and as applied. His primary argument is that the statute contravenes his confrontation clause rights because first, it allows a ...


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