On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Municipal Appeal Nos. MA-2007-09 and S-2006-028816.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Miniman and Waugh.
Defendant Deborah Deans appeals her conviction for the petty disorderly persons offense of harassment, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(b). We affirm.
We discern the following factual and procedural history from the record.
In September 2006, Deans and complainant Jacqueline Daughtry Martin were residents of the Chancellor Apartments in Newark. There was testimony at the municipal court trial to the effect that the two did not get along with each other, although there was disagreement about who was at fault. Martin and her sister, Sonya Jarrett Gillens, testified to a series of prior incidents involving Deans' allegedly angry and disruptive conduct toward Martin. Deans testified that Martin was standoffish, that she thought that Gillens parked in her parking space at Martin's instigation, and that Gillens owed her money for some typing she had done at Gillens' request.
Both Martin and Deans agree that there was an incident involving both of them on September 17, 2006. According to Martin, she was walking with her son when they saw Deans. The son asked Martin whether Deans was the woman who was threatening her and, when Martin responded in the affirmative, the son asked Deans not to bother his mother any more. Deans testified that Martin's son threatened to kill her, having falsely accused her of making threats to Martin in the past.
On September 17, 2006, Deans made a complaint against Martin's son based on the alleged threat. On September 18, the police came to Martin's door, apparently to investigate the threat, but she did not answer their questions. According to Martin, Deans came to the door of her apartment about twenty minutes after the police left. Martin testified that Deans said that she would "fuck [Martin] up" if she came out of the apartment and that, if she saw Martin "at any time," she was "going to slice [Martin's] face because [Martin] thinks [she's] pretty." Martin further testified that she was "afraid of [Deans] because she attacked another woman that lived in the basement." Deans denied that she had any sort of interaction with Martin on September 18, and specifically denied threatening her as alleged by Martin.
The trial in municipal court took place on January 17, 2007. After hearing testimony from Martin, Gillens, and Deans, the municipal judge found Deans guilty of harassment. She found Martin and Gillens to be credible witnesses. Based upon "her body language" and testimony, the judge determined that Deans was not credible.
The municipal judge also expressed her view as to what might have been the basis of the animosity between Deans and Martin.
For the record... Ms. Deans is of dark complexion and Ms. Martin is a very light complexion. I would say -- not to be -- to hurt anybody's feelings or anything --with long hair. And this is somewhat straight. I don't know if that has anything to do with anything.
However, culturally, I understand African American culture. And that may have some issues. Because I can't imagine where this hostility is coming from Ms. Deans, for no apparent reason.
Deans appealed the conviction to the Law Division. She argued, in part, that the Law Division judge should disregard the municipal judge's credibility findings because her race-based explanation for the animosity between Deans and Martin demonstrated racial bias. She also argued that the judge should disregard the testimony about the other incidents of harassment because it was improper evidence of "other wrongs," inadmissible under N.J.R.E. 404(b).
The Law Division judge heard argument on the trial de novo on December 14, 2007, and delivered an oral opinion on January 18, 2008. She convicted Deans of harassment and imposed ...