On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 08-06-01073.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 28, 2012 -
Before Judges Reisner and Accurso.
Following a jury trial, defendant Steven Wright was convicted of aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(3) (count one) and third-degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2 (count two). Judge Joseph Isabella merged the burglary conviction into the aggravated sexual assault conviction and sentenced defendant to an extended term of twenty-five years, subject to a mandatory eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, to run consecutive to a ten-year custodial term defendant was serving at the time of sentencing. The judge further sentenced defendant to parole supervision for life pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4.
Defendant raises the following arguments on appeal:
WRIGHT'S CONVICTIONS MUST BE VACATED BECAUSE OF THE PREJUDICE RESULTING FROM THE PROSECUTOR'S INAPPROPRIATE REMARKS MADE DURING HIS CLOSING STATEMENT.
WRIGHT'S CONVICTIONS MUST BE VACATED BECAUSE THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO THE JURY HEARING THIS CASE WERE FATALLY FLAWED.
1. THE JURY CHARGE CONSISTED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY OF "CANNED" STATEMENTS FROM THE MODEL CHARGES, AND FAILED TO INCLUDE SUFFICIENT FACTUAL INFORMATION UNIQUE TO THIS CASE. (Not raised below)
2. THE PORTION OF THE JURY CHARGE CONCERNING THE IDENTITY OF THE ASSAILANT IN THIS CASE MISSTATED AND/OR MISCHARACTERIZED WRIGHT'S DEFENSE. (Not raised below)
3. THE COURT'S RESTATEMENT OF THE CHARGE CONCERNING AGGRAVATED SEXUAL ASSAULT WAS HOPELESSLY CONFUSING. (Not raised below)
WRIGHT'S CONVICTIONS MUST BE VACATED BECAUSE OF THE CUMMULATIVE EFFECT OF THE ERRORS THAT OCCURRED DURING HIS TRIAL.
Having considered these arguments in light of the record and existing law, we affirm.
The facts adduced at trial were relatively uncomplicated. The victim, twenty years old, had just moved into her own apartment in Jersey City. The apartment was a sparsely furnished one-bedroom in the basement of a three-story brownstone. The front door was located beneath the brownstone's front stairs and opened into the living room in which there were two double hung windows facing the street. One of the windows opened into the living room, the other opened into a small closet in the living room built to enclose some water pipes. The victim's bedroom was at the other end of the apartment, down a hallway. She lived there alone.
On November 18, 2006, the victim attended a baby shower at 8 p.m. in downtown Jersey City. She left the shower after midnight and rode with friends to the Latin Lounge, a downtown bar. The group then left and the victim met up with her boyfriend, outside a bar called Marjae's. The victim and her boyfriend both testified that they went back to the victim's apartment at approximately 2 a.m. The victim testified that she walked her boyfriend out at 5 a.m., locking the front door behind him. She left the light on in the bathroom and fell asleep on the air mattress in her bedroom with the television on.
She awoke to someone choking her shortly after 6 a.m. The apartment was dark and the television had been turned off. She struggled with her assailant and the two rolled off the air mattress and onto the floor. Her assailant threw the victim back onto the air mattress on her stomach and sexually assaulted her.
During the assault, the assailant's cell phone rang. The victim turned back toward him as he answered the call. The light from the cell phone allowed the victim to identify her assailant as S.Dot. The victim testified that he left the apartment through the front door shortly after taking the call. When she heard the front door close, the victim got up and ran into the street where she saw a man running away.
The victim immediately called the police and reported that she had been raped. Although specifically advised by the dispatcher not to shower, she did so anyway. She was taken by ambulance to Christ Hospital. The victim had no visible injuries and no useful evidence was recovered from her person.
She met with a detective from the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office and identified her assailant as S.Dot, a man she recognized from the neighborhood, and had seen on the street before attending the baby shower the day before. She knew him by no other name.
Although no evidence was recoverable from her person, police searching the victim's apartment found one of the living room windows had been broken. Both the victim and her boyfriend testified that the window had not been broken when he left the apartment at 5 a.m. The police also retrieved the victim's pajama top which was stained with blood. As the victim had not been injured in the assault, the blood presumably belonged to her attacker. The police had no information about anyone by the ...