Court Ruling Clears Way For North Brunswick Police Officer’s Trial

NORTH BRUNSWICK — Prosecutors are preparing for trial following a state Supreme Court ruling that bars the defense from making irrelevant legal arguments during the trial of a police lieutenant who is charged with causing a fatal car crash,
Middlesex County Acting Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey announced Wednesday.

In a unanimous decision, the high court’s ruling clears the way for the trial of Lt. Keith R. Buckley, a North Brunswick police officer, who is charged with vehicular homicide and two counts of official misconduct in the death on Aug. 12, 2008, of Lt. Christopher Zerby, who also served with the North Brunswick Police Department.

The 25-page decision, written by Justice Anne M. Patterson, overturned an earlier decision by the Appellate Division of Superior Court which upheld a trial court ruling that determined a jury could consider whether the location of a utility pole and Lt. Zerby’s failure to wear a seat belt contributed to his death.

The Supreme Court ruled those defense contentions were irrelevant to the cause of Lt. Zerby’s death.

The ruling marks the first time the state Supreme Court has ruled on whether the failure to wear a seatbelt is relevant to the cause of a victim’s death in a car crash.

‘’Today’s decision clarifies New Jersey causation law and is an important guide for many pending and future cases,’’ Carey said.

The ruling was handed down following arguments that were presented to the high court on Nov. 5, 2012, by Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Joie D. Piderit. Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Nancy A. Hulett assisted with the brief.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office is scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge Michael A. Toto in New Brunswick on Monday for a status conference and will ask the judge to set a date to begin the trial. The case will be presented at trial by Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Weiss.

Lt. Buckley was charged with vehicular homicide and official misconduct after it was determined that he drove Lt. Zerby in a rented sports car on Route 130 in North Brunswick during work hours and crashed into the utility pole at 11:06 a.m.

Lt. Zerby was pronounced dead at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick at 11:44 a.m.

As is the case with all criminal defendants, Lt. Buckley is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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