In yet another case calling into question the extent of evidence to be produced at detention hearings under New Jersey’s revamped bail system, the Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments over whether a criminal defendant had the right to call witnesses adverse to him.
The case involves a man who led Jersey City police on a car chase and who was then shot.
The officers themselves now face criminal charges.
The driver who led the police on the chase, Leo Pinkston, recently pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Nevertheless, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said Monday that the court decided to hear the case because of its public importance.
Officers Eric Kosinski, Francisco Rodriguez, Lt. Keith Ludwig and former Officer M.D. Kahn are charged with various offenses in connection to the June 4, 2017, chase which began in Greenville when police tried to stop Pinkston, 48, during a shooting investigation, officials said.
The chase ended when Pinkston’s car collided with that of Miguel Feliz at Tonnelle Avenue near North Street. The vehicles slammed into a utility pole and downed wires ignited them. Video shows Feliz being kicked after emerging from his car with his clothing on fire, according to reports in the Jersey Journal. Pinkston was shot while still in his vehicle, reports have said.
Earlier this month, Pinkston pleaded to eluding police and aggravated assault in connection to the pursuit.
The officers’ attorneys have said that they now also seek transcripts of Pinkston’s plea hearing and his upcoming sentencing hearing as part of discovery.
Well before his plea, Pinkston was subject to a detention hearing. Under the new bail system implemented last year by New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, criminal defendants are either held pending trial or are released without having to post monetary bail. After a defendant undergoes a series of tests administered by judiciary officials, a judge determines whether the defendant should be released.
In Pinkston’s case, a judge ordered him held without bail after rejecting his request to call as witnesses the officers involved in the case.
An appeals court affirmed that ruling, and the Supreme Court took up the case.
It is not the first time the high court has examined this type of issue. Last October, the court said in a unanimous ruling that a prosecutor’s proffer of a witness’s testimony will generally suffice if pretrial detention is being sought, although the justices took care to point out that a judge retains the discretion to require live testimony from a witness if he or she is dissatisfied with the state’s proffer.
Pinkston’s attorney, Newark solo Thomas Ashley, argued Monday that Pinkston should have been allowed to confront the officers at his bail hearing since it could have determined what probable cause they had when they attempted to stop him.
Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina said a parade of witnesses could result in a “full-blown trial.”
Ashley disagreed. “This judge has the power to control the court,” he said.
Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Stephanie Elson argued that no defendant should be given the absolute right to call witnesses.
“It would open the hearing for more than there was intended to be,” she said.
Khan and Kosinski are charged with firing at Pinkston’s moving vehicle at Tonnelle and Carlton avenues during the chase. Both are charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, and weapons offenses. The indictment states that one of Khan’s shots struck Pinkston’s leg, according to the Jersey Journal’s report. Rodriguez is accused of opening fire on Pinkston as the car passed through the intersection of Manhattan and Tonnelle avenues. He is charged with unlawfully firing at Pinkston’s car and aggravated assault, the report said. Khan and Ludwig reportedly have been charged as the officers seen kicking Feliz, of West New York, who was later hospitalized for severe burns.