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State v. Scala

Decided: January 24, 1956.


Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jayne, J.A.D.


The defendant, Scala, on whose behalf the present appeal is prosecuted, was placed on trial in response to an indictment presented by the grand jury of Middlesex County alleging that on May 18, 1953 he and one Pasquale Schibilia conspired to steal and permanently appropriate the chattels of Permacel Tape Corporation in the Township of North Brunswick, in pursuance of which unlawful confederation Schibilia between May 18, 1953 and March 16, 1954 made quantities of the chattels at the plant of the Permacel Tape Corporation available to Scala, who removed and sold them.

The defendant Schibilia had pleaded guilty to the indictment and testified in support of the charge against Scala. The latter refrained from testifying in his own defense. Indeed, no testimony whatever was introduced on his behalf. A verdict of guilty was returned by the jury.

Essentially the asserted criticism of the conviction inheres in the denial of the defendant's motion for a mistrial. A concise explanation of the testimony and of the presentation of certain exhibits will reveal the reason that occasioned the request for the mistrial.

The Permacel Tape Corporation is engaged in the manufacture of rolls of sensitive adhesive tape of various designs and sizes. Pasquale Schibilia was a janitor at the manufacturing plant. His regular period of employment was from midnight to 8 A.M. In that capacity he worked alone, and his duty was to remove litter and worthless residue from the plant and deposit it in a yard behind the building. At that time the yard was not illuminated at night. Customarily a motor truck and trailer of the Permacel company used during the daytime to transport material from the warehouse to the manufacturing department of the plant was left in the yard during the night.

The defendant Scala had been previously employed at the plant and had thus acquired not only a personal acquaintance with Schibilia but also a personal knowledge of the premises

and of the operations and practices there pursued. With the opportunities so auspicious the two, both then living in the same house, developed the compact that Schibilia on mutually arranged occasions should stow a quantity of rolls of tape in the company's trailer conveniently parked in the darkness of the yard, and that Scala would during the night furtively abduct them from the trailer, thereafter sell them and reward Schibilia for his cooperating participation at the rate of ten cents a roll. There were 25 or more pillages usually made at 4 A.M. in furtherance of the object of the conspiracy. Scala "got lots of tape there," said Schibilia.

The management of the company discovered an unaccountable declension in its inventories and inaugurated a police investigation. Schibilia had requested his share of the proceeds of the sales, and Scala gave him a check for $175, but alas the check "bounced," a revolution in the confederacy thereupon ensued and Schibilia vociferated.

Able counsel advocated on behalf of the defendant that the rolls pilfered constituted worthless and useless material discarded by the company for destruction. Counsel's alluring interpretation of the activity became frail when it encountered the State's proof that the market price of a perfect roll was 75 cents and the defendant vended those he had so obtained at 50 cents a roll, and moreover that he had received from the sales which the State had identified a total sum of $1,322. The testimony of the witness Julius Silasi concerning the defendant's possession of the rolls of tape and his employment by the defendant to deliver them to the purchasers and collect the payments from the buyer materially fortified the strength of the State's case.

It seems unnecessary specifically to mention other persuasive ligaments of the incriminatory evidence. The purpose of this introductory portion of our opinion is to express the premise that there was an abundance of uncontroverted competent and legally admissible evidence to justify the jury in resolving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, the remarks of Mr. Justice Jacobs in State v. Orecchio , 16 N.J. 125, 129 (1954) are germane to our present considerations:

"The sound administration of criminal justice in our democracy requires that both the end and the means be just. The accused, no matter how abhorrent the offense charged nor how seemingly evident the guilt, is entitled to a fair trial surrounded by the substantive and procedural safeguards which have stood for centuries as bulwarks of liberty in English speaking countries. This, of course, does not mean that the incidental legal errors, which creep into the trial but do not prejudice the rights of the accused or make the proceedings unfair, may be invoked to upset an otherwise valid conviction; under these circumstances it would be grossly unjust to the State and its people to grant a new trial, and in recent days this court has not hesitated to deny such relief to the defendant."

We come now to the pivotal question which implicates basically the propriety of the denial of a mistrial by the trial judge. At the inception of the trial, members of the State Police placed on the table in view of the jury three packages containing rolls of tape which had been confiscated and stored by them as exhibits in the case. There was proof that the rolls were the manufactured products of the Permacel company. Each package was marked for identification. Exhibit S-1 contained rolls of "old tape" manufactured in 1953 and early in 1954 which "had taken an awful beating in the interim." The other two ...

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