The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHAW
Petitioner seeks the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to release him from alleged illegal confinement at the New Jersey State Prison Farm, Rahway, New Jersey, where he has been committed to serve a term of imprisonment imposed by the Somerset County Court.
He was convicted by the Somerset County Court on Indictment 97-61-M charging him with petty larceny and on Indictment 98-61-M charging him with grand larceny. Indictment 97-61-M involved the theft of seven pairs of men's slacks found on the floor of the rear seat of an automobile in which petitioner had been an occupant. Indictment 98-61-M involved the theft of four suits of men's clothing found in the same place in the same car. There was a further indictment 99-61-M charging the receiving of stolen property consisting of eight suits of clothing found in the trunk of this car. This indictment was dismissed.
Petitioner was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of not less than four years and a maximum of seven years on both indictments of which he was convicted. Petitioner contends that his convictions were unlawful because the clothing he was convicted of stealing was evidence used against him at trial which had been procured by an unreasonable search of the vehicle in which he had been an occupant in contravention of his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. He stresses the application of Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, 84 S. Ct. 881, 11 L. Ed. 2d 777 (1964).
Prior to trial petitioner moved to suppress this evidence. A hearing was held and the motion was denied. He appealed his convictions to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. The convictions were affirmed. State v. Griffin, et al, 84 N.J.Super. 508, 202 A.2d 856 (1964). A petition for certification was denied by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The order of the Court recites denial on the merits. Petitioner has exhausted his state remedies.
It should be observed at the outset that while this Court has the obligation to review the record and make independent findings of fact, due deference should be accorded to the findings of fact of the Somerset County Court on the motion to suppress evidence and on the findings of fact of the Superior Court, Appellate Division, reported in State v. Griffin, et al., supra. Each court reached its conclusions after careful independent and thorough review of the evidence, finding that the search of the vehicle which brought to light the stolen clothing was a reasonable search as an incident of a lawful arrest. These courts, however, differed as to the time when the arrest actually occurred.
Upon review of the record here, the pertinent facts are found to be as follows:
Petitioner, along with Charles Griffin and Richard Patrick Cavanaugh, were stopped at approximately 6:20 P.M. on March 13, 1962 by an officer of the New Jersey State Police while they were driving out of a parking lot in the Somerset Shopping Center, Bridgewater Township. The officer had observed the 1959 Chevrolet in which they were riding make a left turn onto the highway from the parking lot. Although such a left turn was not a violation of any motor vehicle law, the officer stopped the vehicle to warn the driver that such a turn was hazardous. Upon routine request for driver's license and registration, the driver, Griffin, was unable to produce a driver's license. Registration was produced showing the vehicle to have been registered in the name of Josephine Abate. None of the occupants could identify himself. While seeking identification, the officer observed a pile of clothing partially on the rear seat and on the floor of the car. The clothing was folded over hangers and bore labels and price tags. Two new brief cases could also be observed. Griffin was the operator of the automobile and Cavanaugh had been seated in the front with him. Petitioner occupied the rear seat.
When Griffin could not produce a driver's license and he as well as petitioner and Cavanaugh could not identify himself, the officer directed them to follow him in their car to the State Police barracks in Somerville. Detention was clearly warranted while inquiry was conducted to verify that the car had not been stolen, but borrowed as alleged, and to determine whether a driver's license had been issued to Griffin.
Petitioner and his two companions followed the officer to the State Police barracks and parked their car in the parking lot. Then, pursuant to direction of the officer, they followed him into the barracks and were directed to wait in the lobby or waiting room. They were there for approximately three-quarters of an hour while the officer conducted investigation to determine whether the automobile had been stolen and also to determine whether a Massachusetts driver's license had been issued to Griffin as related by him. It developed that no such license had been issued and that he did not have a driver's license. A telephone call to Josephine Abate, the party in whose name the vehicle was registered, verified the fact that the vehicle was not stolen. Whether it had been loaned to both Griffin and Murphy through a brother of Josephine Abate was not made clear. The arresting officer, Earl Clouse, had three years police experience as a trooper.
Thomas Edward Walker, a New Jersey State Police investigator, arrived at the police barracks at approximately 6:50 P.M. He had ten years experience as an investigator. He testified that he met Trooper Clouse on his arrival at the police barracks and that Trooper Clouse told him why the defendants were there. His testimony on this is quoted as follows:
"A. On this date, I was returning to the State Police Barracks in Somerville to continue my performance of duties. And Trooper Clouse, Earl Clouse, approached me and told me that he had stopped these three men operating a motor vehicle. He told me that he observed them coming out of the shopping center. They sort of cut in front of him. He checked them out. They could come up with no driver's license; that none of the men had any identification whatsoever on their person. He told me also in checking them that he thought they appeared to be a little fishy to him. He had noticed some clothing on the back seat, on the floor, that looked brand new to him. In other words, he said that they had the price - looked to be price tags already clipped on the sleeve, just piled on the floor behind the driver."
Thereafter the defendants were interrogated and particularly with respect to the pile of clothing that had been observed in the car. The defendants denied any knowledge of it. Petitioner who was seated next to it knew nothing of it. After several visual observations from the outside of the car which disclosed new clothing folded over hangers with brand names and price tags on the sleeves and continued denial of any knowledge of the clothing by the defendants ...