judges, 5 prosecutors, 8 defense attorneys, but not a single evidentiary hearing or trial date scheduled, inter alia under Equal Protection Clause

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (in 2021?): Racial inequity a substantial question of law or fact in ‘State of N.J. v. Horton’

1 Black defendant; 1 White alleged-female victim; and in less than 4 years, 4 judges, 5 prosecutors, 8 defense attorneys, but not a single evidentiary hearing or trial date scheduled, inter alia under Equal Protection Clause

(re: Teenage-Sexual Assault Case Goes Before Fourth N.J. Judge: Trial Date Remains Unknown – Rebecca Donaldson, J.D., December 1, 2021 – Yahoo News/Accesswire (read more>>)

Dec 1, 2021 4:17 AM ET (EMWNews) In August 2018, an African-American, Franklin Horton (68), was brought before the Monmouth County Courthouse for charges of alleged sexual assault in the case of New Jersey v. Franklin Horton (N.J. Sup. Ct. Crim. Case No. 18003427). These charges were pressed by New Jersey law enforcement and are now being contested before Monmouth County, New Jersey Superior Court. His arrest, which was made without a physical warrant, was based on allegations brought forth by a thirteen-year-old “K.M.” She has since gone on to contradict herself in various aspects such as the day, time, and her age during the alleged assault. However, after more than three years since being indicted, Horton’s third acquittal motion was brought forth, and Judge Joseph W. Oxley stated that “The Court is satisfied that the State has demonstrated there was a specified date range. Therefore the indictment was sufficient, and the defense has failed to meet its burden in demonstrating that the evidence was clearly lacking to support the charge,” thereby denying it like the first and the second motion.

Horton, if found guilty by the court, could face a sentence of 25 years up to life on charges of sexual assault. Both the New Jersey Constitution and N.J.S.A. 2C:1-13 require that the State prove each element of a crime “beyond reasonable doubt” before an individual may be found guilty. The consequence of absent or insufficient proof, which does not meet the aforementioned standard of proof, is the accused being found not guilty. The primary evidence pursued by the prosecution revolves around the contradictory testimonies of 13-year-old K.M. It would be interesting to observe if this evidence is subjected to the same level of scrutiny for admissibility for the present case as it would have been for any other case not involving Mr. Horton or people from his race.

During the proceedings of the case, the defendant has retained his Right to Speedy Trial. Since being indicted by the State in 2018, at no point of time has a discovery hearing or criminal trial before the jury or judge has been scheduled to affirm or deny the charges of the alleged sexual assault. Moreover, it is interesting to note that in the present case, at no time has Mr. Horton been allowed to take a polygraph examination, whereby is generally admissible under stipulation between parties. The case is moving in this direction even when the Criminal Court in New Jersey generally prohibits the admissibility of polygraph results into evidence at a criminal trial unless there is a stipulation by both the prosecution and the defense (which is absent in the present case). The reason being the tests are considered unreliable as the results are based on factors that measure physiological responses such as anxiety, respiration, pulse, and blood pressure et cetera. The courts have taken issue with its reliability. Such factors are inconclusive and unlikely to be used as a piece of admissible evidence, which plays a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the case.

This raises questions and concerns on the propriety of the proceedings concerning the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the provisions of the Speedy Trial Act guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution to any private citizen irrespective of the gravity of the allegation leveled against them. Mr. Horton has been incarcerated at Monmouth County Correctional Institution in Freehold, New Jersey, since August 2018, without any bail eligibility. Meanwhile, under the Criminal Justice reform system, the judges consider the following factors for bail such as the defendant’s age at the time of arrest, pending charges, prior convictions, and involvement of violence, prior failures to appear in court or jail sentences.2 The defendant was already a sexagenarian at the time of his arrest and did not hold any pending charges, prior convictions, or involvement in any violence, thus fulfilling all the criteria to be eligible for consideration of bail, which has been denied to him.

Considering how the events have unfolded over the past four years wherein Horton has spent the entirety of this duration incarcerated, questions on Horton’s ethnicity playing a role in the proceedings of the case cannot be avoided. If so, the Equal Protection Clause guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution stands violated. It has been widely argued that racism produces rates of morbidity, mortality, and overall well-being that vary depending on socially assigned race. Eliminating racism is therefore central to achieving justice in the present set of circumstances. Moreover, when the legislature, executive, and the judiciary involve themselves in such prejudice, it creates a cascading impact on the society at large, thereby weakening the ongoing efforts to eradicate deep-rooted racism.

Statistically stated the African- Americans are subjected to harsher punishments and tend to stay imprisoned longer than Caucasians. Here too, the long prison term served by Horton even before conviction and the history of personal grudges between the alleged victim’s uncle and the defendant on account of the interracial relationship with the alleged victim’s mother suggests that the case at hand may be colored by racial bias and has transcended the boundaries set by the criminal procedure. This is further stipulated by the fact that eight different counsels have represented Mr. Horton during the course of his imprisonment of almost four years. And on one occasion this year, according to Horton’s ‘pro se omnibus Faretta petition,’ one of the court-appointed defense counsel of Mr. Horton outright denied filing a motion for a discovery hearing amid an attorney-client meeting at Monmouth County Jail on September 29, 2021. Consequently, Defendant Horton faced great differences with his counsel, which resulted in a grotesque (verbal) brawl. However, the United States Constitution guarantees the right of effective counsel to every citizen but merely appointing a counsel, however competent they are, is insufficient if the counsel denies the accused an opportunity to consult, confer and prepare his defense. This could convert the appointment of counsel into a sham and nothing more than formal compliance with the constitution’s requirement that the accused be given the effective assistance of a counsel. See Avery v. Alabama, 308 US. 444, 446, 60 S. Ct. 321, 322, 84 L. Ed. 377, 379 (1940).3

The circumstances disclosed above raise a substantial question of law or fact that why no jury trial has been scheduled or a ‘discovery/suppression’ hearing [on authenticated evidence] held even after four years of criminal proceedings for an instant case involving one defendant only, who does not have any history of sexual assault, domestic violence, child neglect, or sexual violence and one alleged victim, who has provided ambiguous non-conclusive testimonies before the police and the grand jury.

The judicial system of the United States and the U.S. Constitution which is considered to be one of the most impartial, honest, modern, and efficient imbibes in itself the principles of protection of rights of individuals, equal treatment before the law, and protection against the arbitrary procedure, wherein justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. Justice shall be administered in a commonsense liberal way. Thus, the gruesome imagery of a 68-year-old African-American man looking in the face of 25 years of imprisonment for reasons other than proper and sufficient evidence could make years of fight against discrimination standstill. One can only hope that the further course of action in the present case is in line with these principles set forth by due process of law.

About Writer

Ishita Sharma is an academic author on law education, who graduated from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam (BA, LLB Hons.). 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), and was the founder and CEO of CLAT 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 which promotes equality and diversity amongst citizens.


1 State of New Jersey v. Franklin Horton (Grand Jury Transcript) [State v. Horton, Monmouth Co., N.J. Grand Jury, Case No. 18003427, Indictment No. 18-10-1392, Oct. 26, 2018, p. 9, lines 12-17]

2 New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform – FAQs

Avery v. Alabama, 308 US. 444, 446, 60 S. Ct. 321, 322, 84 L. Ed. 377, 379 (1940) (“The guarantee by the Fourteenth Amendment of assistance of counsel in a criminal case is not satisfied by a formal appointment of counsel to defend the accused, but includes an opportunity for consultation between them and for preparation of the defense. P. 308 U. S. 446.“)[Media Source: Justia.com]

Supporting Media Source(s): 

Acquittal Petition Hearing Is Scheduled in N.J. Sexual Assault Case (State v. Horton) (September 3, 2021)

Third Judge Appointed in Sexual Assault Case (Well Into Third Year) Involving N.J. Handyman, White Teenage Girl (September 13, 2021)

See also: Related court transcripts and other court papers from State of New Jersey v. Franklin, (Monmouth Co., N.J. Supr. Ct., Crim. No. 18003427) Horton at https://tinyurl.com/state-v-horton-court-records )

Contact Information:

Name: Liu, Amanda
Email: [email protected]
Job Title: Public Affairs Manager