In State v. Zadroga, 255 N.J. 114, 119 (2023), in November 2017 the defendant Stephen Zadroga was driving 85 to 88 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone when he collided head-on with another vehicle. His best friend, who was a passenger in his car, died in the crash. The State, believing they had tested the defendant’s blood, reported a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.376%, more than four times the legal limit. Id. at 120. The defendant was subsequently charged with aggravated manslaughter, death by auto, and three counts of driving while intoxicated in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Ibid.
However, after the nurse who drew the defendant’s blood testified for the State at trial, the State realized that the blood they believed to be the defendant’s had actually come from a person who had died seven months before the accident. Ibid. Apparently, no one from the prosecutor’s office had ever inspected the date of collection or patient number written on the blood vials, both of which demonstrated that it could not have been the defendant’s blood. Ibid. After the State discovered the error in the BAC reading, the defendant moved to dismiss the indictment with prejudice because the grand jury had relied on false testimony to indict him. Ibid. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion as to the driving while intoxicated counts, but denied the motion as to the aggravated manslaughter and death by auto counts. Ibid. The trial court found that although the State’s handling of the blood evidence constituted bad faith and inexcusable neglect, allowing the defendant to be retried on the counts unrelated to intoxication would not violate his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause both because the defendant consented to the trial’s termination and because there was a manifest necessity to terminate the trial. Ibid. The Appellate Division affirmed on manifest necessity grounds. Ibid.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the decision, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding manifest necessity justified the mistrial in this case. Id. at 121. The Supreme Court set forth that Jeopardy “attaches after the jury is impaneled and sworn.” Id. at 132 (citing State v. Allah, 170 N.J. 269, 279 (2002)). At that point, the defendant has the right to have the impaneled jury proceed to a verdict. Ibid. Double jeopardy therefore protects “the right of the defendant to have his trial completed before the first jury empaneled to try him.” Ibid. However, termination of a trial can be proper, and a retrial would not be barred by double jeopardy principles, where there is a “manifest necessity” to terminate the proceedings. Id. at 133. The manifest necessity standard protects “the defendant’s interests in having his case finally decided by the jury first selected while at the same time maintaining ‘the public’s interest in fair trials designed to end in just judgements.'” Id. at 133 (quoting Oregon v. Kennedy, 456 U.S. 667, 672 (1982)). The Court determined that the retrial on the counts unrelated to intoxication would not violate the defendant’s rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Court’s decision balanced the defendant’s rights against the public’s interest in fair trials and just judgments. The State was allowed to present the charges to a new grand jury without evidence of intoxication, acknowledging the serious nature of the crime while also recognizing the harm caused to the defendant due to the mishandling of the blood evidence.
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