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State v. Baker

March 16, 2009


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 400 N.J. Super. 28 (2008).


(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

On June 29, 2002, a teenage boy robbed the Rite Aid store in Mount Laurel at gunpoint. Several months later, M.B.went to the Mount Laurel police station and gave a detailed statement implicating himself and his father, defendant Forrest M. Baker, Sr. M.B., who was thirteen years old at the time, claimed that defendant gave him the gun and threatened him with death unless he robbed the Rite Aid. He also implicated defendant in unsolved bank robberies in the area.

FBI agents arrested defendant and found a .45 caliber pellet gun in his car. Defendant admitted that on June 28, 2002, he robbed a Cherry Hill bank while his son was in the car, and he returned to the car with a pillowcase full of money. When a dye pack inside exploded, he told M.B. to throw the pillowcase with the cash out of the vehicle, which M.B. did. In 2003, defendant pled guilty to federal bank robbery charges. In January 2004, he began serving a seventy-eight month sentence at a federal correctional facility at Fort Dix.

The same day that defendant was questioned by FBI agents, the Mount Laurel police questioned defendant about the Rite Aid robbery. Defendant stated that he knew M.B. had committed the robbery. He acknowledged that he may have dared M.B. to do it, but he did not recall threatening M.B. Defendant was charged in a state indictment with first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a), and using a juvenile to commit a first-degree crime, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-9(a), in connection with the Rite Aid robbery.

Before the trial, which began in January 2006, defendant moved to dismiss the indictment based upon the State's alleged failure to comply with the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (the IAD), codified in New Jersey at N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-1 to -15. Under Section 4 of the IAD, N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-4, when a prisoner is serving a sentence in a "state" that is a party to the IAD ("state" includes the federal government), an officer in another state in which an untried indictment is pending "shall be entitled to have a prisoner against whom he has lodged a detainer . . . made available" by making a "written request for temporary custody" to authorities of the state in which the prisoner is incarcerated. Section 4 further provides that "trial shall be commenced within 120 days" of the prisoner's arrival in the receiving state, and that if trial is not had on "any indictment . . . contemplated hereby prior to the prisoner's being returned" to the sending state, then the court shall dismiss the indictment.

Beginning in July 2003, and continuing during the months after defendant commenced his federal sentence, he was shuttled back and forth between the federal prison and the county jail to face the New Jersey charges. Each time, defendant was brought before the trial court based upon an order to produce him called a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum. Defendant argued that the writs were the functional equivalent of a detainer and the remedy accordedby Section 4 of the IAD -- dismissal of the indictment -- was required because defendant was not tried within the 120-day time limit. The State argued that the IAD was never triggered because it did not lodge a detainer or proceed pursuant to the IAD to have him produced in state court. The trial court denied defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment.

Also before the trial, the court conducted a hearing to determine the admissibility of defendant's statements to the FBI and the Mount Laurel police. The court concluded that the evidence of the bank robbery was relevant to the "material issue" of defendant's intent and whether "there was knowledge or a plan in the robbery of the Rite Aid." The court found the two robberies to be "similar in kind," both being first-degree robberies involving defendant and M.B., and "close in time," being one day apart. The court also found the evidence of the prior robbery to be "clear and convincing" because defendant had been convicted of the bank robbery. The trial court concluded that the probative value of the evidence outweighed the prejudice to defendant under N.J.R.E. 404(b).

At trial, M.B. testified that defendant told him as they drove to the Rite Aid that they needed money, that defendant gave him the gun and told him to rob the store, and that he felt threatened by defendant to commit the robbery. M.B. was also permitted to testify about the bank robbery. Defendant was convicted of both counts of the indictment. The trial court imposed a life sentence without parole on the robbery count and a concurrent sentence of fifteen years on the second count, to run consecutively to the federal sentence defendant was already serving.

Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his pre-trial motion to dismiss the indictment. He also argued that the court erred by permitting the State to introduce evidence of defendant's prior bank robbery. Finally, defendant argued that the sentence was excessive.

In a published opinion, the Appellate Division affirmed. 400 N.J. Super. 28 (App. Div. 2008). Applying United States v. Mauro, 436 U.S. 340 (1978), the panel found that the trial court's orders to produce defendant, standing alone, were not the functional equivalents of detainers triggering the IAD. The panel also found no error in the admission of the evidence of defendant's prior bank robbery. The panel held that a material issue in dispute was defendant's knowledge of M.B.'s actions and his intent to participate in the Rite Aid robbery; therefore, evidence that tended to prove that one day earlier the defendant and M.B. were together committing another robbery, using the same weapon and the same vehicle, was highly probative because it demonstrated a shared purpose and negated defendant's claims of lack of knowledge and intent. Finally, the panel concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the consecutive sentence.

The Supreme Court granted defendant's petition for certification. 196 N.J. 86 (2008).

HELD: The Interstate Agreement on Detainers does not apply when the State has not lodged a detainer in the sending state.

1. The Court affirms substantially for the reasons expressed by the opinion of the Appellate Division. The Court adds the following. Under the statute's plain language, there are two necessary conditions precedent to the invocation of the IAD: the lodging of a detainer with the sending state and the receiving state's presentation of a written request for temporary custody to the sending state. Although orders to produce, such as writs of habeas corpus ad prosequendum, qualify as the required "written request for temporary custody," they do not constitute a detainer. Mauro, supra, 426 U.S. at 360-61 ("[A] writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum is not a detainer for purposes of the [IAD]."). If, and only if, the IAD properly has been invoked according to its terms, both the State and the ...

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