The New Jersey Supreme Court has handed down an important ruling that prisoners cannot be forced to wear a prison uniform on the witness stand. The Court ruled that such prison garb “undermine[s] the credibility of the witness.”
Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto wrote “The witness’s attire should play no role in the jury’s primary determination of weighing the evidence and determining … guilt.”
The case involves the trial of Paul J. Kuchera Sr. and his defense called Daniel Kettle, who was serving a 17-year prison sentence for a crime that he allegedly asked him to commit. Kuchera is accused of asking Kettle to beat up his wife’s ex-husband for $1,000. He was allegedly fighting with his wife’s ex-husband over custody. The assault took place on New Year’s Eve in 1999.
Kuchera was convicted of conspiracy, criminal restraint and third-degree aggravated assault and sentenced to 15 years but appealed in part on the basis of Kettle being forced to appear in prison garb. These arguments were rejected by the intermediate appellate court in this opinion.
While the Court upheld the sentence, it ruled that witnesses should not testify in prison uniforms, except for extreme circumstances.
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