Alleged Trenton killer Shaheed Brown files class-action lawsuit seeking speedy retrial, damages

An alleged killer who has been jailed on $1 million cash bail since August 2014 has filed a federal class-action lawsuit seeking to get the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act abolished.

Shaheed Brown, 34, of Trenton, is suing state officials on allegations he and others in his class are being deprived of speedy trials due to the bail reform law giving “preferential treatment” to defendants arrested after Jan. 1, 2017.

Shaheed Brown listens to testimony from State Police Detective Joseph Itri. Gregg Slaboda - The Trentonian

Shaheed Brown listens to testimony during one of his murder trials that ended in a hung jury. (FILE PHOTO)

Brown is accused of shooting and killing 20-year-old Enrico Smalley Jr. about 1:20 a.m. July 12, 2014. Trenton Police were dispatched to the corner of Poplar Street and North Clinton Avenue, where they found Smalley lying on the sidewalk in front of La Guira Bar suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Smalley was rushed to Capital Health Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. 

Authorities filed murder charges against Brown on July 14, 2014, and ultimately arrested him in Newark about a month later. Brown has been unable to post monetary bail, so he remains incarcerated while his case lingers through the courts.

Brown so far has had two murder trials, both of which ended in hung juries. Retired Mercer County Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson declared the first mistrial on Oct. 29, 2015, and declared the second mistrial on May 13, 2016.

Court records show Brown was scheduled for trial in January but had the matter adjourned in favor of more pretrial motion hearings and status conferences. It could take weeks or months before he is given another opportunity to maintain his innocence before a jury of his peers.

In his civil-action complaint filed March 31 in Trenton federal court, Brown says a “significant number of plaintiffs” like him are detained in county jails throughout the state for charges that predate the implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

A majority of New Jersey voters in 2014 passed an amendment to the state’s Constitution giving prosecutors the power to place newly arrested defendants on pretrial detention, eliminating the constitutional right to bail. The Criminal Justice Reform Act, also known as the CJRA, transformed the Garden State’s criminal justice system.

The state under the CJRA is empowered and encouraged to keep newly arrested defendants in jail without bail in cases involving serious offenses, such as murder. With some exceptions, any defendant held without bail on pretrial detention must be indicted within 90 days and must go to trial within 180 days after indictment.

Any defendant on pretrial detention must be tried within two years at the maximum. A defendant must be released from pretrial detention if the state fails to comply with the speedy trial mandates, although the prosecution can file motions seeking to keep those defendants locked up indefinitely whenever a time limit elapses.

Brown alleges his civil rights are being violated because he is not receiving a speedy trial due to him getting arrested before the Criminal Justice Reform Act took effect.

“The CJRA created a special class of detainees who by statute are entitled to preferential treatment when it comes to scheduling trial,” Brown alleges in his complaint. “The practical effect of giving post-CJRA defendants preferential treatment with respect to trials is that plaintiff Shaheed Brown and other plaintiffs will be incarcerated even longer as their trials are delayed to accommodate the post-CJRA defendants.”

Edward Harrington Heyburn, Brown’s defense attorney, filed the civil complaint in U.S. District Court on behalf of his client and “all others similarly situated.”

Brown wants the Criminal Justice Reform Act to be declared unconstitutional and wants to prevent the state from enforcing it. He also wants himself and other members in his class to receive damages “to compensate for the injuries they have suffered” as a result of the CJRA.

The man accused of killing Enrico Smalley Jr. is suing New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey acting courts director Glenn A. Grant and Mercer County Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw over the Criminal Justice Reform Act.

Enrico Smalley Jr.

Enrico Smalley Jr.

Grant issued a “confidential memo” ordering Superior Court judges to schedule newly arrested defendants to trial before defendants who were arrested in the pre-CJRA era, according to Brown’s complaint. He says defendants held without bail under the CJRA get scheduled to trial before plaintiffs like him who have been detained longer on high monetary bails.

Brown alleges the Criminal Justice Reform Act violates the Sixth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution by infringing upon plaintiffs’ right to a speedy trial and equal protection under the law.

An indictment handed up on Nov. 5, 2014, charged Brown with first-degree purposeful murder, second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and second-degree certain persons not to have a weapon due to a prior conviction. He previously served time in state prison for committing an aggravated assault in Newark on July 8, 2002, and for committing an aggravated arson in Essex County.

Brown is scheduled for an April 16 status conference and an April 30 motion hearing before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Anthony Massi, according to court records. He last had a status conference on March 20.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office had no comment for this story. A spokesman for the New Jersey Judiciary did not respond to an email requesting comment Friday.

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