EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Supreme Court of New Jersey Reverses Vonte Skinner's Convictions/My New Essay, Freedom of Character

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed Vonte Skinner's convictions for first-degree attempted murder and related crimes in State v. Skinner, 2014 WL 3798993 (N.J. 2014). Readers might recall that I mentioned the Skinner case in a prior blog post. In that post, I mentioned that I had written an essay inspired by the Skinner case that I presented at a conference on the intersection between free speech and criminal law. In that essay, like the New Jersey ACLU, I argued that if Skinner's convictions weren't reversed under the rules of evidence, they should be reversed under the First Amendment because the prosecution used his lyrics to secure his criminal convictions. In its opinion yesterday in Skinner, the Supreme Court of New Jersey relied on New Jersey Rule of Evidence 404(b) and thus did not need to address the Constitutional arguments made by the ACLU or myself. For those interested in those arguments, though, I just posted a copy of my essay, Freedom of Character: Creating a Constitutional Character Evidence Test. That essay can be downloaded by clicking here. Here is the abstract:

This essay seeks to fill a scholarly and judicial void by proposing a First Amendment test that courts should apply when prosecutors seek to introduce defendants’ speech as character evidence. Under this constitutional character evidence test, assuming that the defendant can prove that his words are protected under the First Amendment, the prosecution would have to do more than simply satisfy the rules of evidence; it would also have to prove that application of the rules of evidence to the defendant’s words is narrowly tailored to advance a compelling state interest.



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