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  1. #1
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    N.J. court tosses rape case because prosecutors revealed defendant's immigrant status

    Updated 1:28 PM; Posted 10:10 AM
    By S.P. Sullivan

    New Jersey's highest court on Thursday threw out the conviction of an undocumented immigrant accused of serial sexual assault in part because prosecutors revealed at trial he was in the country illegally.

    The state Supreme Court found Alexis Sanchez-Medina, who was serving more than 10 years on charges he attacked four women in the summer of 2012, did not receive a fair trial because the disclosure of his immigration status may have prejudiced the jury.

    Alexis Sanchez-Medina

    The justices also ruled jurors should have gotten instructions on how to consider the testimony of the single eyewitness identifying Sanchez-Medina, who maintained police had gotten the wrong man.

    "Together, those errors undermined defendant's right to a fair trial," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the unanimous opinion. "They raise serious questions about whether the outcome was just, particularly in light of the strength of the evidence presented."

    Rabner said the evidence against Sanchez-Medina was "not overwhelming" and the court had "no choice" but to vacate the conviction due to errors by the trial judge and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

    According to court records, four women were attacked in Englewood between July and August 2012, though only one of them said she could identify her assailant.

    Each of the women said they were attacked by surprise or from behind by a man who then groped them or grabbed their genitals, the records show.

    One of the women, identified only by the initials R.D., picked Sanchez-Medina as her attacker from a photo array.

    Sanchez-Medina denied wrongdoing during an interrogation, and although he made "certain admissions" to having contact with some of the women, he later recanted, court records show.

    Prosecutors' case relied heavily on the single eyewitness, but courts in New Jersey and across the country have found such testimony unreliable and require certain instructions on how much weight jurors should give it.

    Those instructions should have been given in Sanchez-Medina's case, the court found.

    At trial, county prosecutors got Sanchez-Medina to admit he had immigrated illegally from Honduras and, although his attorney objected, the judge did not strike it from the record. The prosecutor's office later conceded on appeal that the question was improper, according to the decision.

    "Only in a rare case will it be appropriate for a prosecutor to elicit testimony about a defendant's immigration status," Rabner wrote in his decision, saying in most cases such information "has no bearing" on the issue of guilt or innocence and could taint the jury "because of the inflammatory nature of the issue."

    Tamar Yael Lerer, who argued the case for the state Public Defender's Office, said the decision "made clear that there's no place in our legal system to use a criminal defendant's immigration status to prejudice a jury against him."

    The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the case.
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  2. #2
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006

    Undocumented worker from Bergenfield granted new trial in sexual assault case

    Kaitlyn Kanzler, Staff Writer Published 1:39 p.m. ET Jan. 19, 2018

    An undocumented immigrant will be granted a new trial after the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction of sexual assault against three women.

    On Thursday, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner handed down the unanimous decision to grant Alexis Sanchez-Medina, a Bergenfield day laborer and Honduras native, a new trial after it was determined that jurors should have been instructed to ignore Sanchez-Medina's immigration status and their lack of guidance regarding only one of the victims being able to identify him.

    Sanchez-Medina was sentenced to 18 1/2 years in prison on April 14, 2014 for the 2012 assaults. From July 27 to Aug. 10, 2012, Sanchez-Medina was believed to have stalked, assaulted or attempted to sexually assault four women as they were going to or coming from their homes. The victims were only identified by their initials in the court's written decision.

    The first victim and only one to identify Sanchez-Medina, was walking in Englewood with her small son when she was grabbed on her buttocks and knocked to the ground. She later told police she had gotten a clear look at her assailant as he circled her on a bicycle. The second victim stepped outside her home in Englewood to investigate sounds coming from her air conditioner and was thrown to the ground by a man who put his hand inside her pants.

    The third and fourth attacks occurred on the same day in Dumont. One woman was grabbed as she walked to her home and was able to break free. The other was returning to her apartment after throwing out her garbage when she was grabbed from behind, thrown to the ground and sexually assaulted.

    "No forensic evidence linked defendant to the crimes charged, and no other witnesses observed or could corroborate any of the incidents," Rabner wrote in the decision.

    The description of the suspect varied with two of the victims telling of a man with a pony tail, one victim saying he had short hair and the fourth didn't describe what the suspect looked like. Out of the four, only two identified his race, one said he was a Hispanic man while the other said he was either a light-skinned African American or Hispanic man. Rabner also wrote that the modus operandi was not consistent in how the women were assaulted.

    During the course of his interrogation, Sanchez-Medina denied any wrongdoing but "made certain admissions," Rabner wrote. Sanchez-Medina recanted his statements during the trial.

    "Because no one referred to the victims by name, some of defendantís comments cannot be readily matched to particular victims," Rabner wrote.
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