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State ex rel D.H.

May 20, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF D.H.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Gloucester County, Nos. FJ-08-858-08, FJ-08-927-08, FJ-08-1331-08.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 5, 2010

Before Judges Wefing and LeWinn.

D.H., a juvenile, was charged with acts which, if committed by an adult, would constitute burglary and theft. Following trial, he was found not guilty of burglary but guilty of theft. He appeals. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse.

On the morning of July 23, 2007, John Rooney walked to his car, parked in front of his residence, intending to drive to work. He found that the car doors had been opened and the interior ransacked. In the trunk was a box in which he had stored a GPS navigation system he had only recently obtained; the box was empty. Mr. Rooney summoned the police and the officer who responded to the scene carefully removed the box from the trunk and later delivered it to an investigator in his department. The investigator dusted the box and found several latent fingerprints. He did not attempt to lift the prints himself but forwarded the box to the county prosecutor's office to complete the process.

Detective Nicholas Kappre of the prosecutor's Crime Scene Unit took the box and lifted eight partial latent prints which he forwarded to the New Jersey State Police AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) unit. Of those eight, only two were found to be suitable for purposes of comparison. Detective Kappre received back a card containing ten prints that had been selected by AFIS, together with a computer print-out containing an enlargement of the latent print and the known print. Detective Kappre compared the latent print with the known print he had received from AFIS and testified that they were a match.

Detective Kappre also received from AFIS a list of twenty-five potential matches, identified by SBI number. Detective Kappre did not investigate any of those other potential matches to perform a comparison. There was testimony from which it could be inferred that D.H. headed this list, with the word "hit" next to his identification. There was no testimony to explain the significance of the term "hit" and no testimony linking D.H. to that SBI number. Nor did Detective Kappre take defendant's fingerprints to compare them either to the latent prints retrieved from the box or the ten-print card or enlargements he had received from AFIS.

Although Detective Kappre had received some training in fingerprint identification, he had never testified before on the question of fingerprint comparison. There was no attempt to qualify Detective Kappre to testify as an expert with respect to the workings of AFIS.

The trial was unfortunately protracted and heard in segments over eight days from May through September, 2008. Detective Kappre was the last witness for the prosecution. At the conclusion of his testimony on July 10, 2008, the prosecutor stated that the State was resting its case, and she then began to move documents into evidence, including the AFIS print screens Kappre had received from the State Police. Defense counsel objected, asserting they were hearsay, and that no foundation had been laid for their admission.

The trial court permitted the prosecution to recall Detective Kappre to the stand. For unavoidable reasons, the trial did not resume until August 7. Over defendant's objection, Detective Kappre took the stand. He testified that he had received from AFIS the latent prints he had taken from the box, the print screen AFIS had prepared comparing the latent prints and the known prints stored in the AFIS system and the ten-print card. Defendant objected to Kappre's testimony that the ten-print card contained D.H.'s name; he also testified that he believed the latent prints on the GPS box belonged to D.H.

On appeal, D.H. raises the following contentions for ...


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