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Goodlet v. Goodman

Decided: March 21, 1961.


For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.


The problem presented here is the legality of the dismissal of plaintiffs' writ of habeas corpus by the Atlantic County Court. Review was sought in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court but we certified the appeal before argument there. One of the criminal convictions involved having been for murder, we consider that appeal directly to this court would have been the proper course. See R.R. 1:2-1(c).

On December 10, 1946 plaintiffs Goodlet and Shaw and three other persons pleaded non vult in the Atlantic County Court of Oyer and Terminer to an indictment charging them with murder. On December 19, 1946 all five also pleaded guilty to three additional indictments for robbery and one for breaking and entering and larceny. All offenses were committed between November 12 and 17, 1946. Goodlet and Shaw were sentenced on December 19, 1946 to State Prison for life on the murder charge and to a total term

of 48 to 52 years for the other offenses. Some uncertainty seems to have existed as to whether the sentences were to be concurrent or consecutive. The trial court, however, in this proceeding declared them to be concurrent and on the record before us that is clearly the proper determination. At the time of imposition of the sentences, Goodlet was 17 years, 4 months and 26 days old; Shaw's age was 17 years, 11 months and 18 days.

Almost 13 years later, on September 2, 1959, plaintiffs filed the application which resulted in issuance of and hearing on the writ now before us. According to the prison records they now have a parole eligibility date of August 6, 1961.

The attack on the imprisonment is predicated upon the grounds (1) that the arrests for the crimes charged having occurred in North Carolina and plaintiffs having been removed to New Jersey by police officers of this State without extradition proceedings, the prosecution here violated due process of law; (2) that both Goodlet and Shaw were juveniles at the time of the crimes and sentences, and that, as to the murder charge the order transferring the complaint from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to the Court of Oyer and Terminer was invalid because it was entered ex parte and without hearing, and as to the robbery and breaking and entering and larceny complaints no order of transfer having been obtained by the State, the Court of Oyer and Terminer had no authority to accept their pleas of guilty and to impose sentence thereon; and (3) the pleas of non vult and guilty were made without adequate assistance of counsel and under such fundamentally unfair circumstances as to require a judgment that the convictions and sentences constituted a denial of due process.

According to the indictments Goodlet, Shaw and others on November 12, 1946 broke and entered certain premises and stole property therefrom; on November 13 they committed three armed robberies, and on November 17 while in the course of another armed holdup both Goodlet and

Shaw shot one of the victims, as the result of which he died. They then fled to North Carolina where they were apprehended by local police, Goodlet on November 25, and Shaw on November 26, 1946. A third confederate, one Thompson, was also arrested in the same State. New Jersey police officers appeared in North Carolina with warrants for the arrest of the three men. The local authorities of the latter State turned the prisoners over on November 26 to the New Jersey officers who immediately transported them by automobile to Atlantic County. No extradition proceedings were engaged in.

At the hearing on this writ of habeas corpus (which consumed 6 days) the Prosecutor produced proof that all three accused, after being informed about extradition proceedings, voluntarily agreed to return to New Jersey and in fact freely discussed the various crimes on the way back. Also, a report of a psychological examination of Goodlet on March 26, 1947 in the Mental Hygiene Bureau of the State Prison mentions among other things that he "came back [to New Jersey] without extradition under his mother's advice."

It is not necessary to decide whether plaintiffs waived extradition or were brought back in violation of the statutory requirement to pursue such proceedings before removing an accused from a foreign jurisdiction. The rule is firmly established that the power of a state to prosecute and convict a person for crime is not impaired by the fact that he comes within the court's jurisdiction involuntarily. Due process is satisfied if he is brought before the court to answer charges of which he is fully aware and if he is convicted fairly in accordance with constitutional procedural safeguards. Frisbie v. Collins, 342 U.S. 519, 72 S. Ct. 509, 96 L. Ed. 541 (1952); State v. La Salle, 19 N.J. Super. 510, 515 (App. Div. 1952).

The officers and their prisoners reached Atlantic County late at night on November 27 or early morning of November 28. Goodlet and Shaw were lodged in the County Jail without

any formal questioning or efforts by the authorities to obtain written statements from them. The following day they were taken to the State Police Barracks at Hammonton in the same county where they were told they were going to be asked some questions concerning the fatal holdup. They were advised also that any answers "may and can be used" against them, that they were not being threatened or promised anything, and that any answers must be of their own free will. Then they were asked if, under the circumstances, they were willing to give a statement. They agreed to do so and within two or three hours a typewritten confession was taken in question and answer form from each of them. Goodlet's statement shows "November 29, 1946, 1:30 P.M."; Shaw's bears the same date but the time stated is 3:00 P.M.

The testimony of the Captain of Detectives who participated in the questioning is to the effect that the confessions were voluntarily given, without any physical or mental abuse or coercion or promises of reward. Others of the officers who were present at the time have since died or retired and were not available as witnesses. In any event, in this proceeding neither Goodlet nor Shaw made any attack on the confessions nor did they deny or offer to deny any of the inculpatory facts appearing therein. In fact, Goodlet testified that whatever answers he gave during the interview were truthful. And Shaw conceded that prior to sentence he told his original attorney he was guilty of the murder. Each statement recites that it was read before signing, that there was no desire to add anything more to it, and that it was true in its entirety. The signatures were written immediately below the assertion of truth. Further, in post-conviction interviews with psychologists at State Prison for classification purposes both Goodlet and Shaw readily admitted their participation in the holdup and fatal shooting for which the life sentence was imposed.

When the homicide confessions were completed, plaintiffs were taken before the municipal magistrate in

whose court the murder complaints had been filed. There the complaints were read to them and, according to Detective Captain Juliano, they pleaded guilty. (Since that time the magistrate has died and his records could not be located.) They were not represented by counsel at the time. The plea played no part in the ultimate disposition of the case; nor could it have had any influence in that connection. Under R.S. 2:138-3 (now N.J.S. 2 A:113-3), such a plea to an indictment for murder was barred. The statute is regarded as establishing the public policy of the State so strongly that the accused cannot waive it. If at the trial of an indictment for murder evidence of a plea of guilty to the original complaint before a magistrate is received even without objection, prejudicial error is committed. State v. Leaks, 124 N.J.L. 261 (E. & A. 1940). Moreover, in this case at the time Goodlet and Shaw were juveniles and at that stage of the proceedings exclusive jurisdiction being in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Atlantic County, any arraignment in the Magistrate's Court was improper. L. 1946, c. 77, p. 267; R.S. 9:18-12.

Since Goodlet and Shaw were not yet 18 years old, they were still juvenile offenders within R.S. 9:18-12 (now N.J.S.A. 2 A:4-14, 15). That act conferred on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all cases of juvenile delinquency (which, for purposes of the statute, included murder and the other offenses involved in this case) subject to the following exception:

"If it shall appear to the satisfaction of the court that the case of any person between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years should not be dealt with by the court, either because of the fact that the person is an habitual offender, or has been charged with an offense of a heinous nature, under circumstances which may require the imposition of a sentence rather than the disposition permitted by this chapter for the welfare of society, then the court may refer such case to the prosecutor of the pleas of the county wherein the court is situate.

Such cases will thereafter be dealt with in exactly the same manner as any other criminal case ...

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