It is not uncommon for a defendant to defend against his or her charges by offering the testimony of a witness who supports the defendant’s alibi. Recently, a New Jersey court assessed to what extent the State is permitted to weaken a defendant’s defense by questioning an alibi witness regarding his or her earlier silence, in a case in which the defendant was charged with robbery and other crimes. If you are accused of a theft crime, it is important to consult an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss what evidence the State is permitted to use against you at trial.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant and another man entered a shoe store at night. One of the men pulled out a gun, and both men directed the women working in the store to lie on the floor in the back room, after which they tied the hands and feet of the women. The women gave the men the combination to the safe, and the men accessed the safe and removed money and then left. A glove was found at the store that was later determined to have the defendant’s DNA. Additionally, one of the women working at the time of the incident identified that defendant when presented with an array of photos.

It is reported that the defendant was charged with robbery, kidnapping, and other crimes, but only the robbery and kidnapping charges proceeded to trial. At trial, the defendant presented two alibi witnesses. A hearing was held during the trial on the issue of whether the State could cross-examine the second alibi witness regarding her prior silence, after which the court found in favor of the State. The defendant was ultimately convicted. He then appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing the State to cross-examine the alibi witness.

Cross-Examination of an Alibi Witness

In New Jersey, the courts have ruled that an alibi witness’s account of events may be questionable when the witness failed to come forward when a defendant was first accused of a crime. Thus, in some cases, the State’s questioning of an alibi witness is permissible. Specifically, the courts have developed a four-part test to assess whether cross-examining an alibi witness regarding prior silence should be permitted.

The test requires an analysis of the witness’s knowledge of the nature of the charges against the defendant, whether the witness knew he or she had exculpatory information, whether the witness has a motive to offer information in defense of the defendant, and whether the witness was aware of how to provide authorities with the information. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court did not err in determining the State’s cross-examination of the alibi witness was appropriate upon application of the test. Thus, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Meet with a Dedicated Criminal Defense Attorney

In some instances, an alibi witness can help a person charged with a theft crime avoid a conviction, but the State will often try to weaken the strength of the witness’s testimony, and people charged with theft crimes should seek legal counsel regarding their rights. The dedicated New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall regularly defend people charged with theft and other crimes, and we will work tirelessly to help you seek a favorable outcome. You can reach us through our online form or at 877-450-8301 to set up a meeting.