Thus, we see that substantial criticism may be directed at the position of barring a party from impeaching his own witness.
N.J.S.A. 2A:81-12, entitled Interest or Conviction of Crime as Affecting Credibility, states:
'For the purpose of affecting the credibility of any witness, his interest in the result of the action, proceeding or matter or his conviction of any crime may be shown by examination or otherwise, and his answers may be contradicted by other evidence. Conviction of crime may be proved by the production of the record thereof, but no conviction of an offender shall be received in evidence against him in a civil action to prove the truth of the facts upon which the conviction was based.'
It must be noted that the aforesaid New Jersey statute fails to state any qualifications as to the use thereof. For example, one is unable to find any words suggesting that the legislature thought it would be improper under all circumstances for a party to impeach his own witness.
Moreover, in State v. Fox, 12 N.J.Super. 132, 139, 79 A.2d 76, 80 (App.Div.1951), Judge Bigelow declared:
'* * * The State -- like any other party -- by presenting a witness, impliedly represents to the court that he is worthy of some credit. Carluccio v. Winter, 108 N.J.Eq. 174, 154 A. 427 (E. & A. 1931). It is therefore proper, when the State must rely on the evidence of the criminal, for the prosecutor, at the beginning of the examination, to bring out the fact that the witness has been convicted of crime, since the fact may aid the jury in weighing his testimony.'
That New Jersey law, in some situations, permits either party to question his own witness as to whether he has ever been convicted of a crime was made clear in State v. Costa, 11 N.J. 239, 94 A.2d 303 (1953) by the New Jersey Supreme Court. There, the court stated, using Fox as authority:
'* * * it (legal impeachment by the State of its own witnesses) protects the State against the inference that vital information (on credibility) was withheld from the jury, which inference we suppose may be made if the facts are first developed on cross-examination of the State's witnesses.' Id. 11 N.J. at 249, and Id. 94 A.2d at 308.
This court concludes, after examination of the entire record, that the State of New Jersey has not denied petitioner the due process of law required of the State under the Fourteenth Amendment. No hardship so acute and shocking occurred, when the State elicited from its own witness his previous conviction of a crime, that our policy will not endure it. It did not violate those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which be at the base of all our civil and political institutions. Rather, in fact, since the State knew defendant Holley would claim self-defense, it was incumbent upon the State to explain its possession of the ice pick. The State, from their prior conversations with Jordan, could reasonably anticipate he would testify that defendant's wife had pointed the ice pick out to him. Taking into account that the police had made a search of the premises without locating the weapon, the assistant prosecutor was justified in questioning Willie Frank Jordan's veracity. Consequently, his attack of the witness Jordan's credibility on direct examination was logical and valid.
As in all cases involving what is or is not due process, so in this case, no hard and fast rule can be laid down. The pattern of due process is picked out of the facts and circumstances of each case. See Brock v. North Carolina, 344 U.S. 424, 427, 73 S. Ct. 349, 97 L. Ed. 456 (1953). The court's function here is limited solely to deciding whether the allowance of the impeachment testimony was so unreasonable as to deprive petitioner of the fundamental justice safeguard found in due process. Our system of federalism demands that we strike a balance between national and state authority. It would be highly capricious for us, a federal court, to rule that the State's impeachment of its own witnesses, as permitted under New Jersey law, in view of the circumstances presented, was arbitrary.
Accordingly, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is dismissed.