Article by: Ishita Sharma (Robert Peterson & Fields Associates PC)
State of New Jersey v. Franklin Horton Case Update as of March 11, 2022 – (re: To Kill A Mockingbird’ (in 2021-): Racial inequity a substantial question of law or fact in ‘State of N.J. v. Horton, December 2, 2021)
FREEHOLD, NEW JERSEY — March 21, 2022 — After four months from the first report about the criminal case of State of New Jersey vs. Franklin Horton– a first-degree sexual assault prosecution with six additional second and third-degree counts- there has been no jury trial, no evidentiary hearing; and no bail hearing despite Defendant Horton filing a pro se motion for bail pending trial back in December. And after this extraordinary criminal case passing through five judicial chambers (5 judges), five prosecutors, and nine defense attorneys in less than four years, a 70-year-old Black man remains a prisoner at Monmouth Country Corrections Institution on charges that the prosecutor conceded in a hearing three months ago to have no D.N.A. or evidence to support.
During last week’s court hearing, Horton filed a pretrial affidavit with support exhibits, making unequivocal statements that preserve his claim to innocence and the likelihood of a structural error or void process amid the charging process before him being indicted by a grand jury months after his arrest. [See Horton Affidavit]
The court transcript shows that not much has changed when looking back on the earlier hearings. Since last December, Presiding Judge Marc C. Lemieux has sat bench on the previous four hearings. He’s continued to express that he wants to move the Horton Case through the court expeditiously. But the Monmouth County prosecutor, Nicole Wallace has voiced no concern of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial, due process, or Brady evidence, insofar that she’s said little to nothing since Judge Lemieux replaced the former bench. The prosecutor’s only words in the last four hearings were when the judge asked them questions about when she would provide the court with complete discovery; or if there was ever any supporting evidence or D.N.A. concerning the alleged teenage victim- a Caucasian girl from West Long Branch, N.J., was Horton was arrested without any active arrest warrant on the morning of August 13, 2018.
March 11, 2022, court transcript [see 3/11/2022 Transcript] shows a defendant (a non-attorney) doing most of the talking, despite being represented by a trial attorney- John Goins- who asked the court for another week to review Horton’s affidavit and pro se bail motion that was filed into the court record a month before the court-appointed him as trial counsel.
Does Horton’s Affidavit meet the burden to show sufficient grounds for relief?
Judge Lemieux stated that he would be ‘would rely upon New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in In the Matter of the Request to Release Certain Pretrial Detainees (N.J., February 17, 2021) [N.J.S.A. 2A:162-19(f)] ‘because he is very familiar with it. Thus, Exhibit C included with Horton’s affidavit is a copy of this court order.
Horton’s pro se motion from December 2021 adheres to this citation as to why he should be granted bail pending trial due to meeting the criteria for a defendant eligible for bail.
1. Major changes in circumstances: The were extraordinary changes in the legal situation that were not known to the court at the time Horton was charged or indicted (e.g., the prosecutor told the judge in December 2021 that no D.N.A. or supporting evidence exists in the record other than a grand jury indictment as the result of a checkered testimony that alludes to the substantial likelihood of a factual or legal impossibility since there’s no way to legally prosecute a defendant with a criminal offense on sexual assault that is sui generis to a victim under the age of 13- especially when the grand jury testimony from this alleged victim (ipse dixit) said that she was 13 the first time she was assaulted by the defendant, as the court transcript reads).
2. COVID-19 sanctions affecting the administration of justice: The Monmouth County Jail has been under sporadic COVID-19 lockdowns since this time two years ago. These lockdown measures prohibited attorney-client meetings and calls, inter alia that place undue hardship on a defendant upholding his constitutional rights to a speedy trial, due process, and effective assistance of counsel.
3. After four hearings since Judge Lemieux took over State v. Horton last December, the prosecutor has failed to affirm she is ready to go to trial. At the previous hearing, the judge had to decree (sua sponte) the prosecutor to produce and delivery all evidence to Horton’s attorney. Last December, the judge initially ordered the Horton jury trial to begin in March. There was no record of an adjournment on the trial date, so theoretically, the prosecutor would have missed the deadline to present a list of witnesses and Brady materials had the trial started this month. Last week, Judge Lemieux amended his order on the start of jury trial, saying, ‘The goal is to have Horton’s trial completed by the end of June.’
What does Horton’s affidavit say?
Horton’s affidavit declares everything he probably wasn’t allowed to say in the court over the past 45 months he’s been incarcerated (pending an indefinite trial date), due to a habitual showing of ineffective assistance of counsel by the eight lawyers predating Attorney John Goins notice of appearance.
The affidavit starts by preserving his claim to sufficient grounds to set aside his original detention order since it came about under irregular process, being that there was no arrest warrant, a denial of the right to counsel at the arraignment, no charges of offense provided at arraignment, and no detention order granted in the prosecutor’s favor until a week after Horton’s arrest on August 13, 2018.
Further, Horton’s affidavit declares that he was at no time asked to take a polygraph examination, psychiatric evaluation to stand trial as an alleged offender, or interviews by child protection services or pretrial services, as is most similarly situated defendants charged with sex crimes. This would include the infamous R. Kelly jury trial- a criminal action involving a music superstar and several victims; tons of evidence presented before a jury over many weeks; nothing like the Horton case, with only one alleged victim, no 404b evidence, no direct evidence or circumstantial evidence, to weed through and examine via expert witnesses before reaching a verdict.
The government usually has the burden to show that an error is harmless when such a substantial question of law or fact is raised in the court by a party or amicus curiae. Sure, a harmless error as an arrest without a warrant would have very little weight if there were elements to demonstrate the culpability of an offender. But contrarily, a structural error comes about when the denial to the right to effective of assistance of counsel, and a (prevised) detention order (not filed into the record or signed by a judge until one-week ex post facto) against a defendant who had no other arrest warrants at that time or criminal history of similar offenses (constitutional errors).
Horton’s next hearing arrives in a few days. It will be interesting to see the court ruling on the March 21 hearing. Additionally, it will be great when a trial date is found in the record. Unfortunately, the court clerk has not provided one, nor does the docket summary online show a trial date.
The public will have to see a conviction or acquittal for this defendant. This process shouldn’t take four years. Because there’s no evidence or D.N.A., the trial proceedings should move quite fast- unless the New Jersey courts remember what the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution mean when you have a contrived prosecution the doesn’t seem to have enough substance to sustain a jury trial without using a compilation of hearsay to beg the question of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ishita Sharma is an academic author on law education, who graduated from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam (B.A., L.L.B. Hons.). She has recently studied law at Yale University under continued education courses. Additionally, Sharma authored articles on civil rights as Enforcements in International Law: The Anarchy of Nations. Journal on Contemporary Issues of Law Jun 2017 (Vol. 3, Issue 6) was the founder and C.E.O. of C.L.A.T. Tutorials, a social media-based legal startup envisioned to help law aspirants and young lawyers to prepare for law entrance exams in India. The author also heads a not-for-profit organization in India named Paritripta Foundation, promoting equality and diversity amongst citizens.
Supporting Media Source(s)
State of New Jersey v. Franklin Horton – Case Updates (Court Order on Recent Hearing) (December 2, 2021)
To Kill A Mockingbird’ (in 2021-): Racial inequity a substantial question of law or fact in ‘State of N.J. v. Horton (December 2, 2021)
Third Judge Appointed in Sexual Assault Case (Well Into Third Year) Involving N.J. Handyman, White Teenage Girl (September 13, 2021)
Acquittal Petition Hearing Is Scheduled in N.J. Sexual Assault Case (State v. Horton) (September 3, 2021)
See also: Related court transcripts and other court papers from State of New Jersey v. Franklin Horton, (Monmouth Co., N.J. Supr. Ct., Crim. No. 18003427) at https://tinyurl.com/state-v-horton-court-records