NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court ." Although it is posted on the
internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-4141-17T2
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
JASON E. LOUIS,
Submitted April 28, 2020 – Decided May 12, 2020
Before Judges Gilson and Rose.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 16-01-0350.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for
appellant (Monique D. Moyse, Designated Counsel, on
Theodore N. Stephens II, Acting Essex County
Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Stephen Anton
Pogany, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting
Assistant Prosecutor, on the brief).
Around 3:00 a.m. on May 8, 2015, Orange Police officers were dispatched
to the area of South Day Street, following a report that a storeowner had been
robbed at gunpoint and the suspect had "jump[ed]" into a white Acura. Sergeant
Raymond Hamm was patrolling the area in a marked police car when he saw a
car matching that description approach and make a right turn in front of him.
With the lights and sirens of his patrol car activated, Hamm followed the Acura
for one and a half miles.
Reaching speeds in excess of sixty miles per hour in a thirty-five-mile-
per-hour zone, crashing into poles, driving on the sidewalk, and spewing debris
in its wake, the Acura ultimately crashed into another pole and stopped. All
three occupants ran from the car; responding officers gave chase; and Hamm
apprehended the driver – defendant Jason E. Louis.
Following a four-day jury trial, defendant was convicted of second-degree
eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b).1 Pertinent to this appeal, the State admitted into
The jury acquitted defendant of the remaining charges: second-degree
conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 2C:15-1; and third-degree
resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a)(3)(a). After finding the mitigating factors
substantially outweighed the aggravating factors, the trial judge sentenced
defendant at the bottom of the third-degree range to a three-year term of
imprisonment. Defendant does not challenge his sentence on appeal. The two
other occupants of the Acura were charged in the same indictment with various
offenses, tried with defendant, and acquitted of all charges.
evidence – without objection – three summonses issued to defendant: reckless
driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-96; driving while his license was suspended, N.J.S.A.
39:3-40.1; and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, N.J.S.A. 39:3-10. This
On appeal, defendant raises a single point for our consideration:
THE INTRODUCTION INTO EVIDENCE OF TWO
UNPROVEN, IRRELEVANT AND PREJUDICIAL
MOTOR VEHICLE SUMMONSES WAS CLEARLY
CAPABLE OF LEADING TO AN UNJUST RESULT.
(Not raised below)
More particularly, defendant argues, "the [S]tate improperly introduced
irrelevant, prejudicial, and unproven bad acts - motor vehicle summonses for
driving while suspended and unlicensed [driver] - that had the clear capacity to
lead to his conviction, thereby tainting the verdict and rendering it unjust." The
State concedes those summonses "simply [were] not relevant to whether the
defendant eluded police via flight in a motor vehicle in this case" and, as such,
they did not satisfy the Cofield2 factors for admission as bad-act evidence under
State v. Cofield, 127 N.J. 328, 338 (1992). In Cofield, the Court established
the following four-prong test for the admissibility of other crimes evidence:
3 N.J.R.E. 404(b). But, the State argues that evidentiary error does not require
We find insufficient merit in defendant's belated argument to warrant
extended discussion in our written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We therefore
affirm, adding only a few comments.
We agree with the parties that the summonses were improperly admitted
in evidence because they were not probative to the eluding charge. See State v.
Bakka, 176 N.J. 533, 546 (2003) (recognizing in the context of aggravated
manslaughter and vehicular homicide charges, "the mere fact that a defendant is
an unlicensed driver does not by itself suggest an awareness of risk"). And as
1. The evidence of the other crime must be admissible
as relevant to a material issue;
2. It must be similar in kind and reasonably close in
time to the offense charged;
3. The evidence of the other crime must be clear and
4. The probative value of the evidence must not be
outweighed by its apparent prejudice.
[Id. at 338.]
The Court has since recognized, however, that the second prong does not
necessarily apply in all cases. State v. Williams, 190 N.J. 114, 130-34 (2007).
the State correctly argues, that error was not "clearly capable of producing an
unjust result." R. 2:10-2 (setting forth the plain error standard to determine
whether the error requires reversal).
We apply the plain error standard because defendant did not object to
admission of the summonses at trial. Under that standard, "the error will be
disregarded unless a reasonable doubt has been raised whether the jury came to
a result that it otherwise might not have reached." State v. R.K., 220 N.J. 444,
456 (2015). We must evaluate the error in view of the "overall strength of the
State's case." State v. Chapman, 187 N.J. 277, 289 (2006); see also State v.
Prall, 231 N.J. 567, 588 (2018). A defendant's failure to object leads to the
reasonable inference the issue was not significant in the context of the trial.
State v. Macon, 57 N.J. 325, 333 (1971).
Applying that standard, we are satisfied there was strong, independent
evidence offered against defendant on the eluding charge. Hamm's unrefuted
testimony concerning the events he personally observed on May 8, 2015 was
corroborated by responding officers, who testified as to their observations. And,
defendant's front-seat passenger testified at trial and acknowledged defendant
was "speeding" while driving the car with police in "pursuit." That evidence
constitutes "overwhelming admissible evidence on which to convict defendant"
for second-degree eluding. Prall, 231 N.J. at 588-89.
Moreover, other than fleeting references to the summonses in establishing
their foundation for admission in evidence, the State did not mention the
summonses in summation and the judge did not reference them in the jury
instructions. By contrast, the judge properly incorporated the reckless driving
summons issued to defendant as part of the jury instruction for second-degree
eluding, and the inference the jury may draw to determine whether defendant's
actions "creat[ed] a risk of death or injury to any person." N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b);
see also Model Jury Charges (Criminal), "Eluding an Officer ( N.J.S.A. 2C:29-
2(b))" (rev. Nov. 15, 2004). Accordingly, the trial judge appropriately
instructed the jury to focus on the elements necessary to prove that charge,
without reference to the erroneous evidence.