A Jersey City man had drug distribution charges dropped after the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a police detective’s testimony improperly influenced the grand jury in the case.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
At the grand jury proceeding for Terrell Tucker, Police Officer Patrick Egan described the circumstances surrounding defendant’s arrest, including exchanges the police observed between defendant and other individuals, as well as the cache of illicit narcotics recovered by law enforcement at the scene, the court noted in their August 3rd ruling.
Near the end of Egan’s testimony, the prosecutor asked Egan if he believed, based on his training and experience, that defendant had possessed the narcotics with the intent to distribute them, to which he replied that is what he believed.
” … We find no principled reason to conclude that the holding in [State v.] Cain, which prohibits eliciting expert testimony regarding a defendant’s intent to distribute in a drug trafficking prosecution, should not apply to grand jury proceedings,” Judges Robert Gilson, Gooden Brown, and Katie Gummer ruled.
“Accordingly, we hold that the prosecutor’s conduct in eliciting the testimony improperly encroached on the independence of the grand jury and improperly influenced its determination. As a result, we reverse the judge’s decision denying defendant’s motion to dismiss counts three, four, five, six, nine and ten of the indictment, all of which required an intent to distribute as an element of the charged offense.”
Egan testified that at approximately 5:13 p.m. on October 28th, 2020, Jersey City police officers observed Tucker engage in “suspected narcotics activity” near 96 Grant Ave.
Specifically, officers saw him speak with and then direct individuals to head west on Grant Avenue, at which point Tucker would enter an alleyway between 96 and 98 Grant Ave. and
emerge soon after to rejoin the individuals and exchange an item for cash.
Ultimately, the officers stopped defendant near the alleyway and detected a strong oder of marijuana and was caught with 23 bags of marijuana and $65 cash. A search of the alleyway yielded 19 Ziploc baggies of crack cocaine, 100 folds of heroin stamped “Dope Dick,” and 37 folds of heroin stamped “Bang.”
Subsequent laboratory testing confirmed that the items recovered from the scene contained marijuana, cocaine, a mix of heroin and fentanyl, and pure fentanyl.
Egan also testified that the alleged drug sales occurred within 1,000 feet of a public
school and 500 feet of a public library.
However, the court ruled that the distribution charges should be thrown out since Egan’s testimony violated the aforementioned State v. Cain, which determined that expert
witnesses in drug cases “may not opine on the defendant’s state of mind.”
“Accordingly, we hold that the prosecutor’s conduct in eliciting the testimony improperly encroached on the independence of the grand jury and improperly influenced its determination.”
The ruling also upholds the first two counts of the indictment since they are for drug possession, also noting that the State still has the ability to present the case to another grand jury.