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Defendants Are Entitled to Their Day in Court

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The defendant, along with two co-defendants, was arrested and charged with various counts of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, child abuse and other counts. All three defendants moved to suppress the evidence recovered by the police. The trial court denied the motion as to all three defendants. Subsequent to the denial of the motions, the defendant and his two co-defendants pleaded guilty. The defendant received a sentence of 15 years with no early release. All three defendants appealed the denial of their suppression motions, which is allowed under court rule 3:5-7(d) even though they had pleaded guilty.

For unexplained reasons, the appeal by one of the co-defendants was heard and decided by the Appellate Division prior to the appeal from the defendant. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of the co-defendant’s motion for suppression.

When the defendant appealed, his appeal was heard by a different panel of the Appellate Division. His panel affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion for suppression on the ground that the prior Appellate panel had affirmed the denial and, therefore, that was the “Law of the Case,” a legal concept that prevents the same issue from being re-litigated in the same action.

The defendant appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which reversed the Appellate Division, holding that each defendant in separate appeals is entitled to have his case heard on the merits. Since the defendant was not a party to his co-defendant’s appeal, it violated due process under the New Jersey Constitution to deny the defendant his day in court.

The case was sent back to the Appellate Division to have them make a determination of the appeal on the merits.

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