STATE OF NEW JERSEY VS. JAMES J. MAUTI
A jury found defendant guilty of third degree aggravated criminal sexual contact and fourth degree criminal sexual contact and not guilty of first degree aggravated sexual assault and second degree sexual assault. Defendant is a physician. The complaining witness is his sister-in-law. We reverse and remand for a new trial.
We hold the trial judge should have excluded a towel containing defendant's semen based on the absence of competent evidence linking it to the alleged sexual assault. The towel also constituted inadmissible hearsay by conduct under N.J.R.E. 801(a)(2).
The judge also abused his discretion by permitting the State to call five fresh-complaint witnesses and thereafter deciding not to instruct the jury on fresh-complaint testimony. Defense counsel’s acquiescence to the trial judge’s decision not to charge the jury on fresh-complaint did not constitute invited error.
Finally, we conclude that the trial court properly admitted a redacted version of a letter sent by defense counsel to the prosecutor as an adopted admission under N.J.R.E. 803(b)(3). Under these circumstances, we reject defendant’s argument that defense counsel’s letter falls within the ambit of "plea negotiations," as that term is used in N.J.R.E. 410. Our analysis is guided by the federal courts’ review of Fed. R. Evid. 410, the source rule of N.J.R.E. 410.
As a matter of first impression in this State, we adopt the analytical approach used by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Robertson, 582 F.2d 1356, 1366 (5th Cir. 1978) to determine when interactions between the State’s representative and defense counsel constitute protected “plea negotiations” under N.J.R.E. 410. This approach requires a trial judge to determine: (1) whether the accused exhibited an actual subjective expectation to negotiate a plea at the time of the discussion; and (2) whether the accused's expectation was reasonable given the totality of the objective circumstances.
The State bears the burden of proof. Because this two-tiered approach requires a fact-sensitive analysis, the trial judge should conduct an N.J.R.E. 104 hearing to resolve any disputed facts.