The End of Last Week

Even as many people were throttling back in anticipation of the long holiday weekend that culminated in Christmas day, the Appellate Division issued three published opinions late last week. Here are summaries of those opinions:

In re Appeal of Denial of R.W.T.’s Application for a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2023). This opinion by Judge Susswein was one of many around the country that has had to apply the guidance of the Supreme Court of the United States in N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 597 U.S. ___, 142 S.Ct. 2111 (2022), regarding whether state statutes regulating firearms violate the Second Amendment. There, as Judge Sussswein said, the Supreme Court required the government to “show there was ‘relevantly similar’ regulation of the conduct when the Second and Fourteenth Amendments were adopted by presenting a ‘well-established and representative historical analogue. . . ‘” in order to demonstrate that a statute conformed with the Second Amendment. In this R.W.T. case, the Law Division denied the relief sought because the applicant had “knowingly falsified information on the application, triggering disqualification pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c)(3).” The Appellate Division affirmed that ruling over R.W.T.’s Second Amendment challenge even though that falsification disqualification provision had no historical analogue. “[T]he constitutionality of the falsification disqualification provision springs not from historical precursors, but rather from the constitutionality of the licensing regime itself. Having acknowledged the constitutionality of the basic structure of a shall-issue licensing regime, Bruen signaled that laws safeguarding the integrity of such licensing systems without imposing additional substantive limits on who can purchase a gun will also be constitutional.”

State v. Knight, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2023). These consolidated cases involved two brothers, both found guilty of armed robbery and other offenses. As Judge Sabatino said in his opinion for the Appellate Division in this appeal, “[a] key issue raised by both defendants is whether the trial court erred by allowing the jury to observe multiple times, in slow motion and with pauses, an approximately six-second segment of a surveillance video.” This was “a matter of first impression.” The Appellate Division held that “subject to offsetting concerns of undue prejudice—surveillance video footage may be presented to jurors in slow motion or at other varying speeds, or with intermittent pauses, if the trial court in its discretion reasonably finds those modes of presentation would assist the jurors’ understanding of the pertinent events and help them resolve disputed factual issues…. [and] again subject to offsetting concerns of undue prejudice—that trial courts in their discretion may grant a jury’s requests during deliberations to replay the videos in such modes one or more times, provided that the playbacks occur in open court under the judge’s supervision and in the presence of counsel.” Judge Sabatino found no error in the playbacks of the video here and offered “several non-exclusive factors to guide the court when considering whether to allow videos to be shown in varying speeds or with intermittent pauses during the trial and summations, and on a jury’s request during deliberations.” The panel also “recommend[ed] that the Model Criminal Jury Charge Committee consider crafting an instruction to guide jurors when surveillance videos are presented in such modes.”

Azzaro v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Trenton, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2023). The first paragraph of Judge Marczyk’s opinion in this case well encapsulated the matter. “This appeal raises a novel issue of whether N.J.S.A. 18A:16-6 allows school board employees to wait until the final disposition of a civil or administrative action filed against them before seeking defense costs and indemnification from a school board. We conclude an employee cannot wait until the action is completed and must provide the school board with reasonable notice after the initiation of the proceeding, unlike the procedure set forth in N.J.S.A. 18A:16-6.1, which provides that an employee cannot seek reimbursement of defense costs and indemnification until the conclusion of a criminal or quasi-criminal action.” As foreshadowed by that summary, the panel’s opinion rested in significant part on a statutory interpretation analysis that focused on the difference between the two statutes cited in the summary.