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State v. Williams

New Jersey Supreme Court

January 19, 2021

In State v. Williams, a jury convicted the defendant of bank robbery. In her summation, the prosecutor displayed to the jury a PowerPoint slide with the heading “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.” The slide contained a still-shot from the movie ‘The Shining’, depicting Jack Nicholson in his role as a violent psychopath who used an ax to break through a door while attempting to kill his family.  The slide featured the words spoken by Nicholson in the movie as he stuck his head through the broken door –“Here’s Johnny!”  The prosecutor commented that the character was “saying some very unthreatening words, ‘Here’s Johnny.’ But if you have ever seen the movie . . ., you know how his face gets through that door.  . .  . It’s not just the words; it’s what you do before and what you do after the words that matters.  And that’s what makes this a robbery.” The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor’s comments and the movie photo made it more likely that the jury would reject the defense that only a theft occurred.  Thus, the prosecutor’s conduct during summation was capable of having an unfair impact on the jury’s deliberations, intruded upon defendant’s right to a fair trial, and constituted reversible error.

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