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State v. McNair

Decided: February 17, 1960.


Goldmann, Conford and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.


Pursuant to leave granted by this court, defendant appeals in forma pauperis from a judgment of conviction in the Essex County Court, entered upon a verdict of guilt, for the unlawful possession of a narcotic drug, heroin, in violation of R.S. 24:18-4. Defendant was given a State Prison sentence of 10 to 12 years and in addition ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

Defendant's first argument is that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case. We have reviewed the record and find nothing to support the contention. The proofs adduced by the State, viewed in their entirety, were such that the jury could properly find therefrom, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant was guilty of the crime charged. State v. Goodman , 9 N.J. 569, 581 (1952). The direct and circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution inextricably tied defendant to the packages of heroin discovered in the bottom half of the chandelier in his apartment.

This evidence was incriminating in the highest degree. An issue of guilt or innocence was clearly established and properly submitted to the jury.

Under this point of his brief, defendant also claims that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. This contention is equally without merit. Although defendant took the witness stand in his own behalf, his testimony did little to rebut the overwhelming evidence that linked him with the crime. He admitted he was in sole control of his apartment; that when one of the detectives who took him into custody suggested a visit to the apartment he said "Let's go"; that when they arrived there he unlocked the door and freely admitted the detectives to the apartment; that he then told them, "You can look all you want. I didn't do nothing wrong"; and that the detectives found packages of heroin in his living room chandelier. He pleaded ignorance of the heroin and categorically denied all admissions attributed to him by the State's witnesses. He suggested the possibility that one of the many persons who had been his guests at the apartment was responsible for the presence of the heroin, or that someone may have gotten into the apartment through a broken window and secreted the packages. While under cross-examination, he said: "So, he [Detective Mueller] started searching the house. I said, 'If you find anything in this house I'll say I don't know nothing about it. I'll say anything you find I don't know * * *.'" Almost the next moment he denied making this statement, but when it was read back to him, attempted to explain it away by saying, "You confuse me or something," and "I didn't mean it."

Compare all this with the testimony brought out on the State's case, that when the detective who found the packets of heroin asked defendant if he could explain them, he said, "I guess you got me." Asked whether the packets belonged to him, defendant replied, "It is my apartment, and everything in the apartment is mine." Another of the detectives picked up one of the packets and inquired of defendant,

"Pops, how many is in here?" He answered, "There's 50." The packet was then opened and 51 "folds" or "decks" of heroin counted. The same detective asked, "Pops, where did you get this from? Who made the delivery?" and defendant said, "You must have seen the delivery last night." He also said, "I never sold to anybody, but I might just be a distributor." And when defendant was asked if there was anything more he wanted to tell the detectives about the matter, he exclaimed, "What the hell more do you want? You got me."

Defendant's second point on appeal is that he was denied his right to a fair trial because the trial judge refused to charge defense request No. 13, which read as follows:

"The fact that the defendant or any witness in this case has previously been convicted of crime may affect the credibility of the testimony of the defendant or a witness. However, despite this instruction, I specifically charge you, the jury, that you in your discretion may give full credence to the defendant's testimony or the testimony of any witness previously convicted of crime."

The trial judge instructed the jury as follows:

"Now, the State has offered evidence of a prior conviction of the defendant. The law as to that is as follows: A prior conviction of crime does not prove nor does it tend to prove a person guilty of the crime presently charged against him. The question, therefore, may arise in your mind as to why the law permits such conviction to be shown. The answer is this: The law permits it to be shown that a witness, whether a defendant or not, has been previously convicted ...

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