State v. Damian Sanchez (084104) (Camden County & Statewide)

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SYLLABUS This syllabus is not part of the Court’s opinion. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Court. In the interest of brevity, portions of an opinion may not have been summarized. State v. Damian Sanchez (A-60-19) (084104) Argued January 5, 2021 — Decided July 22, 2021 PATTERSON, J., writing for the Court. The Court considers the admissibility of the lay opinion testimony of defendant Damian Sanchez’s parole officer, Cheryl Annese, that defendant was the individual depicted in a photograph derived from surveillance video. In the course of a homicide investigation, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office circulated a flyer entitled “Attempt to Locate,” which stated that a “red/burgundy” Buick Century was “possibly used” in a homicide. The flyer included a still photo derived from surveillance video. In the photograph, the driver is not seen, but the faces of a male passenger in the right front seat and a male passenger in the right back seat are visible. In response to the flyer, Annese contacted the detective leading the investigation. She identified the front-seat passenger depicted in the photograph as defendant, a parolee whom she supervised. Annese stated that she had met with defendant at least twice a month in the fifteen months since he was released after serving a term of incarceration for aggravated manslaughter. She also told the detective that approximately a week after the homicide and robbery identified in the flyer, defendant had informed her that he had “probably dropped” his phone and had changed his telephone number. A search of a suspect’s cellphone revealed text messages exchanged with defendant. A grand jury indicted defendant for felony murder and armed robbery, among other offenses. Defendant filed a pretrial motion to exclude Annese’s testimony. The trial court ruled that her testimony was inadmissible as lay opinion testimony under N.J.R.E. 701. It found that Annese’s testimony did not satisfy the rule’s requirement that testimony be based on the perception of the witness because Annese did not witness the homicide or robbery, see defendant in the Buick, or have “firsthand” knowledge that defendant was in the Buick as it left the crime scene. The trial court also found that the evidence did not satisfy the requirement that the testimony assist the jury under N.J.R.E. 701. And the trial court held that the testimony should be excluded under N.J.R.E. 403. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s determination and remanded the matter. The Court granted defendant’s motion for leave to appeal. 241 N.J. 383 (2020). 1 HELD: Annese’s lay opinion testimony is rationally based on the witness’s perception and therefore satisfies the first prong of N.J.R.E. 701. Based on Annese’s extensive contacts with defendant, the absence of any other identification testimony, and the quality of the surveillance photograph, the testimony meets the second requirement of N.J.R.E. 701 because it will assist the jury in determining a fact at issue in defendant’s trial. Sanitized to …

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