On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment No. 08-08-1839.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simonelli, J.A.D.
APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION August 10, 2012
Before Judges Payne, Reisner and Simonelli.
The opinion of the court was delivered by SIMONELLI, J.A.D.
This case presents the novel issue of whether a defendant is entitled to a mistrial or new trial based on misconduct in the jury's presence. We hold that a defendant cannot engage in courtroom misconduct and then expect to be rewarded with a mistrial or new trial for his or her egregious behavior where the trial judge took appropriate cautionary measures to ensure a fair trial. We, therefore, affirm defendant's conviction by a jury for first-degree carjacking and numerous associated offenses. We also affirm his extended-term sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, although we reverse certain additional aspects of his sentence, and remand for entry of a corrected judgment of conviction.
[At the request of the Appellate Division, only the following portion of the opinion is to be published. The discussion regarding the court's disposition of the other issues raised in the appeal is omitted.]
We derive the following facts from the trial record. On May 1, 2008, defendant engaged in a lengthy high-speed chase with police officers from the Tinton Falls Police Department. During the chase, defendant committed several motor vehicle violations, broadsided a vehicle operated by T.A., causing her to hit the entire left side of her body and her head on the inside of her car, crashed his car into the woods, tried to escape by carjacking a good Samaritan's car, resisted arrest, assaulted a police officer and a police canine, and attempted to disarm an officer. Following defendant's arrest, the police found a magazine containing nine millimeter hollow point bullets in defendant's car, and a nine millimeter handgun in close proximity to his car. In addition to several eyewitnesses, including the police involved in the chase, there were videotapes of the incident taken from several police vehicles, which were admitted into evidence and played to the jury.
At the conclusion of the State's case and in the jury's presence, defendant assaulted defense counsel, fought with sheriff's officers, attempted to escape from the courtroom, and was subdued by the sheriff's officers. The trial judge immediately removed the jury from the courtroom following the outburst.
Defense counsel moved for a mistrial. Noting that there was no New Jersey authority directly on point, the judge relied on out-of-state cases mentioned in 89 A.L.R. 3d 960, "Disruptive Conduct of Accused in Presence of Jury as Ground for Mistrial or Discharge of Jury" (1979), which held that a defendant was not entitled to, and should not be rewarded with, a mistrial due to his misconduct in the courtroom. The judge denied the motion, concluding that defendant's conduct was calculated to disrupt and delay the matter. The judge stated that
[i]f I were to grant [defendant] a mistrial and in a sense, give him what he wish[ed], a delay, then he would be benefiting from what is clearly [abhorrent] conduct in a sense, declaring that anytime someone . . . did not like the way the trial is going, they can take a swing at their attorney and get a redo.
Following the jury's return to the courtroom, the judge gave a cautionary instruction that the jury must disregard the incident when deliberating and base the verdict solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom. All jurors acknowledged that they understood the instruction and could comply with it. The judge similarly charged the jury in his final instructions.
Represented by new counsel, defendant moved for a new trial, arguing that the judge should have granted a mistrial because it was impossible for the jurors to be fair and impartial after witnessing the incident, the judge's instructions were inadequate to overcome the prejudice to defendant, and defendant's conduct resulted from stress caused by his alleged pre-trial inability to adequately consult defense counsel and review all discovery. The judge denied the motion, finding that defendant's conduct was calculated to cause a mistrial ...