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State v. Griffin

Decided: July 15, 1964.


Goldmann, Kilkenny and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Collester, J.A.D.


[84 NJSuper Page 511] Defendants William Charles Griffin (alias William C. Murphy or Ralph J. Wilson), Alexander Murphy (alias Alex Pogozelowski), and Richard Patrick Cavanaugh (alias Richard Patrick Meechan) were indicted by the Somerset County grand jury for three criminal offenses. Indictment 97-61-M charged that on March 13, 1962 defendants committed the crime of larceny, in violation of N.J.S. 2A:119-2, by stealing seven pairs of men's slacks valued at $84.86 from Carlton, Inc. in Bridgewater Township. Indictment 98-61-M charged that on the same date defendants committed the crime of larceny by stealing four men's suits valued at $299.50 from the Olympic Shop in Bernardsville. Indictment 99-61-M charged that on the same date defendants committed the crime of receiving stolen goods, in violation of

N.J.S. 2A:139-1, by feloniously receiving eight men's suits valued at $748.50 owned by Salny Bros. and M. Epstein, Inc., which corporations were located in Morristown, New Jersey.

Following the return of the indictments, defendants moved to suppress evidence seized by the police consisting of articles of clothing and two briefcases, on the ground that such evidence was the product of an unlawful search and seizure in violation of their rights under the Fourth Amendment. The motions were denied. Thereafter indictment 99-61-M charging receiving stolen goods was dismissed on motion by the State because an indictment for larceny of said goods had been returned in Morris County.

The two larceny indictments were consolidated for the purpose of trial and at the outset of the trial defendants again moved to suppress the evidence. The motion was denied. In the trial that followed, defendants were found guilty by a jury in the Somerset County Court.

Defendants Griffin and Murphy appeal, contending that the court erred in denying the motions made prior to trial, and renewed at the outset of the trial, to suppress as evidence the stolen articles found in their possession. Murphy also contends that the court erred in the denial of a motion for dismissal on the ground that there was no proof of larceny, and further that there was error in the court's charge to the jury.

The following evidence was adduced on the motions to suppress. At 6:20 P.M. on March 13, 1962, State Trooper Earl Clouse observed a 1959 Chevrolet two-door sedan leave the parking lot of the Somerset Shopping Center in Bridgewater Township and turn left onto Route 202-206. An unofficial "No Left Turn" sign is located at the exit from the parking lot. Although a left turn onto the highway at the exit is not a violation of law, it is hazardous, and Trooper Clouse stopped the vehicle as a courtesy to advise the driver that such a turn was not safe.

Griffin was the operator of the Chevrolet. Cavanaugh sat in the front passenger seat and Murphy occupied the rear right seat.

Griffin and Trooper Clouse left their respective vehicles and walked to the right side of the Chevrolet, where the officer asked Griffin for his driver's license and the automobile registration, which Clouse testified was a customary request. Griffin had no license, but the two men remaining in the car produced the car registration certificate from the glove compartment. It indicated that the motor vehicle was owned by one Josephine Abate of Bayonne.

By this time Cavanaugh had alighted from the car and stood next to Griffin. Clouse asked for evidence of their identification, but none of the three men could produce any. While asking Murphy, who was seated on the rear seat of the car, for his identification, the trooper shined his flashlight into the rear part of the car in Murphy's direction. He then observed clothing piled on the left rear seat next to Murphy and on the floor behind the driver's seat. He noticed that several men's suits, apparently new and still on hangers, were "semi-folded," partly on the seat and on the floor. He was able to see that the suits still bore labels and price tags stitched to the sleeves. He also saw two briefcases.

Following his observation of the clothing in the car and defendants' failure to produce any identification other than the motor vehicle registration, Trooper Clouse directed defendants to follow him in the car to the State Police Barracks at Somerville. They did so.

At the police station, having been informed by Griffin that he had been issued a Massachusetts driver's license which Griffin said had expired, Clouse initiated a "look up" proceeding to check this information with the Massachusetts police authorities. He also arranged for a "look up" and a "lost and stolen look up" with the New Jersey authorities to ascertain whether the motor vehicle had been stolen.

Griffin told the officer that Murphy had borrowed the vehicle from a person known as Dominick and asked, and was granted, the right to make a telephone call. The person to whom the call was made, purportedly Josephine Abate, told

Trooper Clouse that she was the owner of the motor vehicle and that it had not been stolen.

Trooper Clouse also went out to defendants' motor vehicle, which was parked next to the police station, to make a further observation of the car. He again flashed his searchlight into the rear portion of the car where the clothing was piled. He was able to observe that the hanger of the suit on top bore the name of "Olympic Shop."

Investigator Thomas Walker of the State Police arrived at the police station at about 6:50 P.M. and took over the investigation. Trooper Clouse reported how he had stopped defendants' motor vehicle and that no one possessed a driver's license or any identification. Clouse further reported that he had observed what appeared to be new clothing, with price tags still clipped to the sleeves, piled on the floor of the car behind the driver's seat.

Investigator Walker then went outside to the parked car and shined his half-mile flashlight into it. He also saw the clothing piled on the floor of the rear part of the car and noticed that a suit on top contained a wooden hanger bearing the name "Olympic Shop." He could also see the price tags on the sleeves. He opened the car door and picked up the suits. He noticed that each suit was on a wooden hanger and that a price tag bearing a name and numbers was still on a sleeve of each suit. The pants were uncuffed. The suits appeared to be "brand new, like they had just come off the rack." While going through the pile of clothing he observed several pairs of slacks, rolled up in a bunch. Walker next telephoned Bernardsville police headquarters to ascertain whether a clothing theft had been reported by the Olympic Shop. He was advised that such information would be relayed to him after the store owner was contacted.

Thereafter Walker began a series of individual interrogations of the defendants. Each denied knowledge of, or having seen, the clothing or the brief cases in the motor vehicle. In his investigation of Murphy, who had occupied the rear seat of the car, the investigator pointed out that the clothing

and briefcases were "right at his feet" and asked "how could he miss them?" Murphy still denied knowledge of any clothes having been in the car. Walker stated that he would go out to the car and bring the clothing in for Murphy to examine. The officer then brought the four suits, seven pairs of slacks and the two briefcases into the police headquarters and showed them to Murphy. Murphy continued to deny having any knowledge of the articles, as did the other defendants when shown the same.

An examination of the briefcases showed that the dividers inside had been removed, thereby permitting greater space for the storage of articles carried therein.

Thereafter the proprietor of the Olympic Shop appeared at the police headquarters and identified the suits of clothing. Walker asked Murphy "what the score is" and said, "You are caught with the goods. Why not tell me how you fellows have been ...

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