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State v. McIntyre-Caulfield

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

May 18, 2018

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MARIANNE MCINTYRE-CAULFIELD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted May 8, 2018

          On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Accusation No. 17-09-0823.

          Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, PA, attorneys for appellant (Darren M. Gelber, of counsel and on the brief).

          Andrew C. Carey, Middlesex County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent State of New Jersey (Brian D. Gillet, Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor, on the brief).

          Lowenthal & Abrams, PC, attorneys for respondents Parents of W.V. (Michael W. Landis, on the brief). [1]

          Before Judges Fisher, Fasciale and Moynihan.

          OPINION

          FASCIALE, J.A.D.

         This is a tragic case involving the death of an infant that occurred after defendant placed him on his stomach for a nap in her daycare-home business. Two lawsuits resulted from the incident. The State charged defendant with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(2); and the infants' parents filed a civil lawsuit against defendant seeking money damages.

         The State consented to defendant's admission into pre-trial intervention (PTI), and agreed to drop the charges if she successfully completed the program. Enrollment into PTI, however, required that defendant plead guilty because of the second-degree charge. Before pleading guilty, defendant's insurance company disclaimed coverage in the civil matter. Without insurance - and a civil reservation - defendant faced disastrous financial consequences if she pled guilty because the parents could use her plea as an admission of liability. These consequences created a genuine obstacle to resolving the criminal charge.

         Defendant overcame that impediment by relying on Rule 3:9-2 and requesting, without opposition from the State, that her guilty plea not be evidential in the civil dispute. Defendant argued that the consequences of her guilty plea in the civil case - likely devastating financial ruin because she was uninsured - constituted good cause under the rule. The judge denied her request and entered the order under review.

         The legal question - when enrollment into the PTI program is contingent on a defendant pleading guilty to a second-degree charge - is whether the civil consequences of wreaking devastating personal financial havoc on a defendant constitutes good cause under Rule 3:9-2. We hold that such a financial circumstance establishes good cause permitting a civil reservation. We emphasize that the civil reservation here eliminated the obstacle to avoiding an unnecessary criminal trial against defendant, who feared that the civil claimants would later use her plea of guilty as a devastating admission of civil liability.

         Applying a de novo review to this legal question, State v. Nash, 212 N.J. 518, 540-41 (2013), we conclude that the judge erred by denying defendant's request to plead guilty with a civil reservation. We therefore reverse.

         I.

         The facts are undisputed. On December 1, 2015, the five-month-old infant died. Before the State filed the charge, the parents' first civil attorney notified defendant that he represented the parents, and directed defendant to forward his representation letter to ...


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