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State of New Jersey v. Ramirez: Defendant’s Rights Must Be Balanced with Victim’s Rights

— March 11, 2022

We often hear about criminal defendants’ rights on TV shows, but we don’t hear about balancing factors or victims’ rights.

This case was decided on June 4, 2021 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. The decision balanced the Victim’s rights with Defendant’s right to present a complete defense.

Mr. Ramirez was indicted on one count of first-degree kidnapping, four counts of first degree aggravated sexual assault, one count of first-degree armed robbery, two counts of third degree aggravated criminal sexual contact, one of count of third-degree terroristic threats, and related weapons charges. 

The prosecutor moved (asked the court) for a protective order to exclude the victim’s home address from the information made available to defendant and his counsel. A protective order means that sensitive information will not be released. The prosecutor argued that this order was important because Mr. Ramirez allegedly threatened to kill the victim if she tried to get help. The victim was concerned about potential retribution for her notifying police.

Mr. Ramirez’s criminal defense lawyer argued that defense investigators needed this information. It was part of the defendant’s constitutional right to present a complete defense. He needed access to adverse witnesses during the investigation. However, in consideration of the victim’s concerns, the defense counsel suggested the court’s protective order should limit access to the victim’s home address to the defense lawyers and their investigators. The defendant would not personally have this information. The trial court granted this request for a compromised protective order. 

The Appellate Division reversed the decision. It determined that the compromised protective order conflicted with NJ public policy. Mr. Ramirez kidnapped and brutally sexually assaulted the Victim. He held a boxcutter to her throat and threatened to murder her if she called out for help. He admitted after arrest that he had murdered in Mexico. The trial Court’s granting of the compromised protective order did not address the victim’s concerns of protecting her privacy, and violated her sense of safety and security. 

The Court balanced defendant’s rights with victim’s rights. Criminal defendants have a right to confront their accusers, under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the NJ Constitution. Mr. Ramirez argued that he needed access to adverse witnesses to adequately prepare his defense. The Court did not find this to be an absolute right. 

The Court explained that NJ policy concerning crime victim’s rights is contained in the Victims’ Rights Amendment, the Crime Bill of Rights, and the Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights. The Victim’s Rights amendment requires that victims “be treated with fairness, compassion and respect by the criminal justice system.” The Crime Bill of Rights entitles victims to be “free from intimidation, harassment or abuse by any person including the defendant or any other person acting in support of or on behalf of the defendant, due to the involvement of the victim or witness in the criminal justice process.” The Court found that providing the Victim’s home address to only the defendant’s team would violate these protections.

Privacy sign
Privacy sign; image courtesy of notnixon via Pixabay,

The Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights was passed by the NJ State Legislature in 2019. It provides several rights for sexual assault victims. The Court discussed the right “[t]o choose whether to participate in any investigation of the assault.” The Court determined that even though Mr. Ramirez didn’t have access to the Victim’s address, Mr. Ramirez’s defense team would use this information to investigate. She would be forced to participate in the investigation. No one from his legal or investigative team should have had access to her address. This violated her right to privacy. 

This case is quite important. We often hear about criminal defendants’ rights on TV shows, but we don’t hear about balancing factors or victims’ rights. A skilled criminal defense attorney will know this information, know how to work with the available information, and craft the best strategies for the defendant.

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