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State v. Hyppolite

Supreme Court of New Jersey

December 11, 2018

State of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Shaquan Hyppolite, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued September 13, 2018

          On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

          Elizabeth C. Jarit, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Elizabeth C. Jarit and Mary J. Ciancimino, First Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Stephanie Davis Elson, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Esther Suarez, Hudson County Prosecutor, attorney; Stephanie Davis Elson, on the brief).

          Alexander Shalom argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation, attorneys; Alexander Shalom, Edward Barocas and Jeanne LoCicero, on the brief).

          Sarah C. Hunt, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for amicus curiae Attorney General of New Jersey (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Sarah C. Hunt, of counsel and on the brief).

          RABNER, C.J., writing for the Court.

         When the State seeks to detain a defendant pretrial under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), prosecutors must disclose "all exculpatory evidence" before the detention hearing, see R. 3:4-2(c)(2)(E). In this case, the Court considers the appropriate remedy when the State fails to disclose exculpatory evidence before a detention hearing.

         In March 2017, police officers responded to a report of a shooting in a parking lot at Lafayette Gardens in Jersey City and found Terrel Smith's lifeless body. Smith had been shot multiple times. The police identified "Michael Gregg" as a witness and interviewed him. Over time, he made two separate -- and inconsistent -- statements.

         A few hours after the shooting, Gregg said that he was in the victim's Jeep around the time of the shooting. After the victim got out of the car, Gregg said he heard three to four gunshots but did not see the shooter. Gregg spoke to the police again on June 8, 2017 and gave a second statement. Gregg said the victim had picked him up on the day of the shooting, and the two were selling drugs. Gregg said he recognized several other men in the area including Quan, "Bill," and "Frank." During a break in the interview, Gregg told the police he was worried about his safety and the safety of his family. He provided more details after the break: Quan approached the victim when he left the car to get more drugs; Quan was clutching something inside his hooded sweatshirt, which Gregg thought was a firearm; Quan and the victim had a short conversation on the driver's side of the car before Gregg heard a gunshot; and Gregg ran away as he heard several more gunshots. Gregg identified defendant Shaquan Hyppolite from a photo array.

         Defendant was charged and arrested for murder and weapons offenses. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint stated that "an eyewitness . . . positively identified Shaquan Hyppolite AKA Quan as the actor who" killed Terrel Smith.

         The State moved for pretrial detention the next day. Two days later, the State made available fifty-one pages of discovery materials and a DVD recording of Gregg's interview on June 8, 2017. On the day of the detention hearing, the State also turned over a four-page written summary of that interview titled "Second Interview of [Gregg]." The State did not disclose Gregg's first statement before the hearing.

         At the detention hearing, the court ordered that defendant be detained. Two months later, a grand jury indicted defendant. The State turned over additional discovery, including Gregg's first statement to the police, recordings of interviews of Bill and Frank, and an application for a communications data warrant for Gregg's cell phone.

         This marked the first time defendant received Gregg's initial statement to the police, in which he denied having seen the shooter. Bill's statement revealed that he told the police he was in jail at the time of the homicide. Frank told the police that he was en route to Popeyes when he heard gunshots from Lafayette Gardens. The application for the communications data warrant noted that an eyewitness saw the victim engaged in a conversation with three men before the shooting, "which conflicts with [Gregg's] version of events." Based on the new discovery, defendant moved to reopen the detention hearing.

         The trial court issued a written opinion and denied the application. The court found that the additional discovery contained exculpatory evidence, and that the State therefore violated Rule 3:4-2(c) by failing to disclose the items before the hearing. The court, however, found that the evidence withheld was not material. The Appellate Division denied leave to appeal. The Court granted leave to appeal. 232 N.J. 370 (2018).

         HELD: When exculpatory evidence is disclosed after a detention hearing, judges should use a modified materiality standard to decide whether to reopen the hearing. If there is a reasonable possibility that the result of the detention hearing would have been different had the evidence been disclosed, the hearing should be reopened. Applying that standard in this case, the Court reverses and remands to the trial court to reopen the detention hearing.

         1. When the State seeks to detain a defendant pretrial, the prosecutor must provide the defendant with "all exculpatory evidence" "no later than 24 hours before the detention hearing." R. 3:4-2(c)(2)(E). At any time before trial, a defendant may apply to reopen a detention hearing under N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(f). (pp. 9-12)

         2. The requirement to turn over exculpatory evidence before a detention hearing is grounded in the State's affirmative obligation to disclose evidence favorable to a defendant. Brady v. Maryland held that the prosecution's "suppression . . . of evidence favorable to an accused . . . violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution." 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963). Impeachment evidence, as well as exculpatory evidence, is governed by the Brady rule. Evidence is material "if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different." United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 682 (1985). (pp. 13-14)

         3. In State v. Hogan -- which applies to grand jury proceedings -- the Court "impos[ed] a limited duty on prosecutors" to inform the grand jury of exculpatory evidence "that both directly negates the guilt of the accused and is clearly exculpatory." 144 N.J. 216, 237 (1996). In contrast, Rule 3:4-2(c)(2)(E) calls for disclosure of "all exculpatory evidence" before a detention hearing. Hogan does not govern pretrial detention hearings. (p. 14)

         4. N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(f) imposes a materiality standard to determine whether to reopen a detention hearing when information "that was not known . . . at the time of the hearing" later surfaces. Brady and its progeny, of course, set forth the traditional materiality standard to assess the prosecution's withholding of exculpatory evidence. Although that standard provides a fair and workable approach for motions filed after trial, the test is not ideal for evidence withheld before a detention hearing. To require pretrial detainees to show a "reasonable probability" that their detention hearing would have ended differently may well be impractical and set the bar too high. Conversely, requiring a new hearing every time exculpatory evidence is not disclosed would serve only to punish or deter the State in some instances, not to enhance fairness or satisfy due process. (pp. 15-19)

         5. The Court adopts a modified materiality standard for detention decisions: Judges should examine whether there is a reasonable possibility -- not probability -- that the result of the hearing would have been different had the evidence been disclosed. The burden is on the State to demonstrate that a new hearing is not required under that standard. If the State cannot make that showing, the detention hearing should be reopened. The test does not require defendants to show that they reasonably would have prevailed at the earlier hearing. At the same time, a fanciful possibility that the outcome would be different would not satisfy the standard. The approach presents no due process concerns under federal or state law: It is more favorable to defendants than what Brady and Bagley call for, and it would be difficult for defendants to claim a constitutional right to reopen a hearing when the State shows that there is no reasonable possibility that the outcome of the case would be different. Release is not an appropriate remedy for a discovery violation, as a general proposition. (pp. 19-21)

         6. The Court adds guidance for judges and practitioners in this novel area, outlining the streamlined process it envisions. (pp. 21-23)

         7. Overall, the CJRA statistics generally demonstrate good faith and a commitment by counsel to abide by the court rules. If, however, a court found that a prosecutor engaged in willful or egregious misconduct by intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, the court should refer the matter to the Office of Attorney Ethics. (pp. 24-25)

         8. The homicide charge in this matter rested heavily on a single witness -- Gregg -- who identified defendant as the shooter. That evidence was undermined by Gregg's earlier statement that he did not see the shooter. Two other statements -- by Bill and Frank -- and the communications data warrant also conflict with Gregg's account and could be used to impeach him. Defendant should have an opportunity to use the new evidence to try to rebut the presumption of detention. Even with a presumption of detention, N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(b), and defendant's juvenile record, there is a reasonable possibility that the result would have been different. Defendant is therefore entitled to a new detention hearing. (pp. 25-26)

         REVERSED and REMANDED to the trial court.

          JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, PATTERSON, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER's opinion.

          OPINION

          RABNER CHIEF JUSTICE

         When the State seeks to detain a defendant pretrial under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26, prosecutors must disclose "all exculpatory evidence" before the detention hearing, see R. 3:4-2(c)(2)(E). We now consider the appropriate remedy when the State fails to disclose exculpatory evidence before a detention hearing.

         In this case, defendant Shaquan Hyppolite was charged with murder and weapons offenses. At the outset, the State relied on a single witness who spoke to the police and identified defendant as the shooter. The State successfully moved to detain defendant and released a statement by the witness along with other discovery before the detention hearing.

         Defendant was indicted two months later, and the State disclosed additional materials afterward. Those materials revealed that the witness initially told the police he did not see the shooter. The witness had also identified two others he claimed were at the scene of the crime, but their newly disclosed statements contradicted him. Other evidence conflicted with the witness's version of events as well.

         The trial court correctly found that the additional discovery contained exculpatory evidence that should have been disclosed before the detention hearing, pursuant to Rule 3:4-2(c)(2)(E) (then Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B)). The judge concluded the evidence was not material and declined to reopen defendant's detention hearing.

         We hold that when exculpatory evidence is disclosed after a detention hearing, judges should use a modified materiality standard to decide whether to reopen the hearing. If there is a reasonable possibility that the result of the detention hearing would have been different had the evidence been disclosed, the hearing should be reopened.

         Applying that standard in this case, we reverse and remand to the trial court ...


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