Saturday, July 18, 2009
Plea Agreement As Improper Influence: New Jersey Appellate Court Finds Prior Consistent Statement Were Properly Admitted In Drug Appeal
New Jersey Rule of Evidence 607 indicates that
Except as otherwise provided by Rules 405 and 608, for the purpose of impairing or supporting the credibility of a witness, any party including the party calling the witness may examine the witness and introduce extrinsic evidence relevant to the issue of credibility, except that the party calling a witness may not neutralize the witness' testimony by a prior contradictory statement unless the statement is in a form admissible under Rule 803(a)(1) or the judge finds that the party calling the witness was surprised. A prior consistent statement shall not be admitted to support the credibility of a witness except to rebut an express or implied charge against the witness of recent fabrication or of improper influence or motive and except as otherwise provided by the law of evidence.
As the recent opinion of the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division in State v. Davis, 2009 WL 1974509 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2009), makes clear, however, the "improper influence" need not be improper in the sense that we usually think of the word but can include events such as a witness' entry into a plea agreement.
In Davis, Gary Davis was charged with a plethora of drug-related crimes: possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in the third-degree; possession of a CDS in the third-degree with intent to distribute; distribution of a CDS in the third-degree; third-degree possession of a CDS on or within 1000 feet of school property with the intent to distribute; and third-degree distribution of a CDS on or within 1000 feet of school property.
Kurt T. Stamp and Richard Ink were allegedly involved in Davis' criminal activities, reached plea agreements, and testified against Davis at his trial. After they tesified, defense counsel "suggest[ed] to the jury that their testimony was not trustworthy because it was given in exchange for a plea agreement." Thereafter, the prosecution introduced written statements made by Stamp and Ink after their arrests which were consistent with their trial testimony and before they were offered plea agreements.
After Davis was convicted, he appealed claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred by admitting these written statements. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division disagreed, finding that these statements were admissible under New Jersey Rule of Evidence 607. Davis had argued that this Rule was inapplicable because "his trial counsel was very careful to avoid alleging that Stump or Ink had engaged in a 'recent fabrication,'" but the court concluded that Davis read the Rule "too narrowly." According to the Court, claiming that the testimony of Stamp and Ink was not trustworthy because it was given in exchange for plea agreements was a sufficient "improper influence" to allow for the admission of their prior consistent statements.