Prosecutors accused Damon Williams of robbing a bank. There was no weapon involved. The question in the case was whether he used force or the threat of force. The State’s theory was that, although the he never expressly conveyed a threat and, in fact, used a note filled with only polite terms, his physical presence conveyed menace and, therefore, constituted a threat.
To illustrate that point, the prosecutor showed the iconic picture from The Shining, where Jack Nicolson’s character says “here’s Johnny” as he uses an ax to try to break down the door behind which his wife and son hid. The question in the case was whether such a demonstration was proper and, if not, whether it constituted harmful error.
The ACLU-NJ amicus brief explained that demonstrative aides are entirely proper, but, can only be used to convey that which can be properly argued. Here, the prosecutor would never have been able to compare Mr. Williams to an ax-wielding murderer in an oral presentation to the jury; he cannot, therefore, use a picture to illustrate what he was prohibited from saying.
After oral argument on September 29, 2020, the case remains pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
- Williams: Amicus Brief (198 KB pdf)