State v. Davis

477 A.2d 308, 96 N.J. 611 (1984)

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State v. Davis

New Jersey Supreme Court
477 A.2d 308, 96 N.J. 611 (1984)

Facts

After Steven Raymond Davis (defendant) pleaded guilty to murder, a trial for sentencing was scheduled. Based on New Jersey law, Davis could be sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment prior to becoming eligible for parole, or he could be sentenced to death. Davis’s attorney notified the state that he planned to proffer expert testimony in mitigation of a death sentence that empirical studies had shown that defendants with Davis’s statistical profile would not commit another serious crime after being incarcerated for 30 years. Davis’s expert, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang, did not meet or evaluate Davis personally. Rather, Wolfgang prepared a report by assessing the low recidivism rates for offenders with Davis’s demographic characteristics. Specifically, Davis would be age 57 if released after 30 years. Based on national statistics and Wolfgang’s own studies, Wolfgang asserted that men between the ages of 55 and 59 were not likely to commit murder. Wolfgang also asserted that individuals who were convicted of murder in the first degree had lower rates of recidivism than all other offenders. Wolfgang found that Davis would not commit a significant crime ever again. New Jersey sought the exclusion of Wolfgang’s testimony, asserting that the testimony was not relevant to a mitigating factor. The trial court excluded Wolfgang’s proffered testimony because it did not relate to Davis’s character as an individual. The trial court felt that the statistical approach did not reveal anything about a particular defendant. Davis appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)

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