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Municipal Court Defendants Have a Broad Right to Discovery

In State v. Stein, decided on July 19, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified that individuals charged with offenses (traffic/criminal) in municipal court are entitled to a broad scope of discovery.  The Court was asked whether a municipal prosecutor must disclose all documents and information requested by defendants.  As long as the requests are relevant, the answer is yes.

In Stein, the defendant was involved in a car accident, and the first responders were officers from a neighboring town.  The defendant was suspected of drunk driving and given a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer test.  He failed both tests.  Prior to trial, the defendant requested the names of all responding officers, but he was provided with the names only of the officers who arrived from the local police department.  He also requested, but did not receive, video of himself from squad cars and police headquarters.  Defendant was subsequently convicted of drunk driving and careless driving.

On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the municipal prosecutor had an obligation to provide the defendant with all relevant discovery, including the information from the adjacent town.  Since this issue was not raised by the defendant in the municipal court, however, it was waived.

New Jersey’s “open-file” approach to criminal discovery provides broad protection to defendants and it is critical that individuals charged with offenses follow the procedures available to obtain that discovery.

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