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State v. Geiger

Decided: September 1, 1942.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,
v.
ALEXANDER GEIGER, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR



On writ of error to the Union County Court of Quarter Sessions.

For the defendant in error, Abe J. David, Prosecutor of the Pleas of Union County, and Thomas J. Hueston, First Assistant Prosecutor.

For the plaintiff in error, John F. Ryan.

Before Brogan, Chief Justice, and Justices Parker and Porter.

Porter

The opinion of the court was delivered by

PORTER, J. The plaintiff in error (hereinafter called defendant) was convicted of larceny of ten negotiable checks (N.J.S.A. 2:145-3) the property of Joseph Nugent.

Defendant was a police officer of the City of Elizabeth. Nugent conducted a tavern near the plant of Jersey Match Company and was in the habit of cashing the company's pay checks issued to its employees on pay days. On Friday, March 7th, 1941, in the early evening Nugent cashed checks for many of the said employees. Immediately upon finishing the cashing of the checks, in making up his accounts, he discovered that his accounts did not prove and that he was short several hundreds of dollars. He found missing several checks which he recalled having cashed. During the time when he was cashing the checks the defendant was in the room with him and during a short period when he was absent from the room the defendant was alone there. On the next day, March 8th, 1941, defendant presented the ten checks which had been cashed by Nugent the evening previous to William Einhorn of the Lee Drug Company at its store in the vicinity. Defendant told Einhorn that the payees of the checks had requested him to have same cashed and that they had been endorsed by the payees. Whereupon Einhorn cashed the checks and gave the proceeds to defendant. The defendant denied having stolen the checks from Nugent and said that on March 8th, 1941, he was asked by a man whose name he did not know to get him the cash for the checks which he handed to him and that he had gotten the cash from Einhorn

and delivered it to the man in question and that he had acted entirely in good faith in so doing.

The entire record is returned with the writ in accordance with the statute, N.J.S.A. 2:195-16, and the case is before us on assignments of error and specification of causes for reversal.

First it is argued that the refusal of the trial court to declare a mistrial on several motions was error. The prosecutor in his opening statement to the jury said that the defendant had cashed other checks at the drug store which were unaccounted for. He asked the defendant on cross-examination whether he did not use a name other than his own. He was also asked whether or not charges had not been made against him by his superior officer in the police department for violation of certain rules of the department. We are of the opinion that these questions should not have been asked, yet we do not think that the defendant was prejudiced by them. The proofs show that the defendant did cash other checks at the drug store and the fact that the prosecutor stated that some of them were not accounted for is not a charge, as is contended, that these unaccounted for checks were also stolen. There was no proof that any other checks were stolen, and on the argument for mistrial, the state's attorney so conceded. This admission together with the court's charge to the jury to try the case only on the testimony renders the prosecutor's statement harmless. Nor do we think the court erred in denying motions for a mistrial because of the question concerning the defendant's use of another name and about having charges preferred against him. Mistrials should only be granted in extraordinary and striking circumstances in order to prevent a failure of justice and rests in the sound discretion of the trial court. State v. Steneck, 118 N.J.L. 268. We conclude that there was no abuse of discretion by the trial court. However, we think that the prosecutor was not justified in going beyond the indictment in his opening statement to the jury. It was improper for him to have spoken of the defendant having been

charged with dereliction of duty as a police officer. Nor should he have questioned the defendant respecting his use of an alias unless he was prepared (and he was not) to offer proofs to sustain that charge. However, these ...


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