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State v. Williams

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 29, 2017

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
IMANI WILLIAMS, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued September 14, 2017

         On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Warrant No. W-2017-000508-317.

          Jennifer B. Paszkiewicz, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for appellant (Scott A. Coffina, Burlington County Prosecutor, attorney; Ms. Paszkiewicz, of counsel and on the brief).

          Philip G. Pagano, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Jared Dorfman, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

          Before Judges Alvarez, Currier, and Geiger.

          OPINION

          CURRIER, J.A.D.

         In this appeal, we address whether, in a pretrial detention hearing, defendant's pregnancy should be given greater consideration than any other pretrial detention factor in a judge's assessment under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26. Because we conclude that the trial judge abused his discretion in giving defendant's pregnancy greater weight than all other pertinent factors in his determination to release her, we reverse. Pregnancy, like any other medical condition, is only considered for its impact on the risk of a defendant posing a danger to the community, obstructing justice or failing to appear in court. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-20.

         In June 2 017, defendant was charged with second-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a)(1); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); and disorderly persons theft by unlawful taking, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(a). The victim of the crimes told police that defendant and another person had "jumped" her from behind and thrown her to the ground. She was punched and kicked in the head, face, and body while on the ground, resulting in several shattered teeth as well as swelling and bruising to her eyes and face. Money was stolen from her purse.

         On the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-25, the Pretrial Services Program rated defendant a six for new criminal activity and a five for failure to appear. It also flagged defendant for an elevated risk of violence. The recommendation was that defendant remain in custody pending trial.

         The State filed a notice for pretrial detention, N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(a), and a hearing was conducted on June 13, 2017. In support of its request that defendant be detained pending trial, the State noted defendant's extensive juvenile history, including several violations of probation, two pending disorderly persons charges, and a 2 016 disorderly persons conviction for assault by auto resulting in a sixty-day period of incarceration. Defendant failed to appear for court six times within the previous two years.

         Defense counsel informed the court that defendant had a full-time job and had recently learned that she was eight weeks pregnant. He requested she be released under condition of in-person reporting. Counsel argued that defendant's "employment as well as her pregnancy would assure both her appearance in court as well as the safety of the community."

         After the judge found the State had established probable cause, he turned to the request for detention pending trial. The judge explained that he had reviewed the PSA and its recommendation, and acknowledged the serious second-degree charges and defendant's multiple prior failures to appear. The judge further stated that he was familiar with defendant's extensive juvenile history, [1] having served as the county's juvenile judge during the pertinent timeframe. Nevertheless, the judge determined that the State's proofs fell "just slightly below clear and convincing evidence" because the PSA did not take into account that defendant was eight weeks pregnant or that her pregnancy "present[ed] issues with regard to care in a correctional facility." The judge concluded that defendant's pregnancy required the denial of the State's motion for pretrial detention.

         The judge explained that he would

impose some very strict pretrial release provisions in light of the fact that the State was just a tad short of clear and convincing evidence and [that his decision] was impacted by [defendant's] pregnancy . . . and the issues that would pose to the correctional ...

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