By Paul Casteleiro, Esq
On May 26, 2021 the New Jersey Supreme Court in an evenly split 3-3 decision upheld the murder conviction of Michele Lodzinski. The issue the Court split on was whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction. The tie vote results in the affirmance of the conviction.
In 2016 Ms. Lodzinski was convicted of murdering her five year old son in 1991. She was arrested in 2014 after several witnesses changed their original statements. At the trial the State was unable to produce any evidence establishing the cause of death let alone that the death was a homicide or any evidence of conduct by Ms. Lodzinski that contributed to the death. Nonetheless the jury convicted Ms. Lodzinski of murder and the trial court denied her motion for a judgment of acquittal. Centurion entered the case in the Supreme Court as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court. Centurion argued Ms. Lodzinski was denied basic due process when the Appellate Division, in affirming the trial court’s denial of her motion for acquittal, refused to not only consider her evidence of innocence, which it acknowledged was “substantial” and “in many ways directly rebutted the State’s proofs,” but also refused in reviewing the State’s evidence to consider whether it was discredited or impeached. While evenly splitting on the meaning of the evidence all six justices, Chief Justice Rabner did not participate in the case, agreed with Centurion’s position that when a defendant moves for a judgment of acquittal the court must consider not only the evidence presented by the State but also the evidence produced by the defendant.
The result of the decision is indeed unusual, while the principle advocated by Centurion that all evidence must be considered was upheld, Ms. Lodzinski must remain in prison serving a 30 year prison term without the possibility of parole despite the fact that when all the evidence is considered half of the Court is of the view that it is insufficient to sustain her conviction.
Centurion thanks Fox Rothchild LLP for its stellar pro bono representation of it in the Supreme Court.