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State v. Spagnola

Decided: December 19, 1966.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RALPH SPAGNOLA, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- Justices Proctor and Hall. Proctor, J. (dissenting). Justice Hall joins in this dissent.

Per Curiam

[48 NJ Page 328] The Appellate Division granted the State's application to appeal from a judgment entered on a finding of acquittal by a trial court after it had originally made a finding of guilty and after argument was had on a motion for a new trial. While the appeal was pending, we granted certification on the State's motion. The State seeks a reversal and a remand directing the trial judge to decide the motion for a

new trial and thus give the State an opportunity to submit additional testimony if a new trial is ordered.*fn1

The facts are as follows. On November 21, 1963, two Newark police officers, who had a search warrant covering defendant and his car, stopped defendant as he was driving out of a parking lot in the City of Newark. On the front seat of the car the officers found a parking ticket inscribed with lottery numbers and thereupon arrested defendant, charging him with illegal possession of a lottery slip. N.J.S. 2A:121-3. Defendant pleaded not guilty.

On December 7 and 8, 1965, defendant was tried on the charge by a court sitting without a jury. At trial defendant denied ownership of or knowledge concerning the lottery slip and also testified that the contents of the front seat of his car were not the same when he parked the car as they were when he re-entered it to drive out of the parking lot. There was also testimony that the notations on the lottery slip were not in his handwriting.

At the conclusion of the testimony, the trial court found defendant guilty and set January 5, 1966 as the date for sentencing. On December 15, 1965, defendant filed a timely notice for a new trial (R.R. 3:7-11). The entire argument by defendant and the State on December 23, 1965 concerned the proof or lack of proof of defendant's knowing possession of the slip. No new evidence was referred to or suggested by either party. After argument, the trial court reserved decision.

Some ten weeks later, on March 10, 1966, the trial court advised the parties by letter that it had reconsidered the evidence, had decided to change its original finding of guilty and had decided to acquit the defendant. This made it unnecessary

to determine the motion for a new trial. Formal judgment of acquittal was entered on March 14, 1966.

We affirm, but feel that certain facets of this case require discussion for future guidance of counsel and the trial courts.

We first discuss the unfortunate noncompliance with R.R. 1:30-2, which provides:

"As a matter of routine, all motions heard by the trial courts in any week shall be decided at or before the opening of the court the next week. As a matter of routine, all cases submitted to trial courts shall be decided within four weeks after submission."

The importance of following the mandate of this rule is especially clear in this case. Among its purposes, the rule is designed to require the courts to decide motions and cases while the evidence and testimony are still fresh in the mind of the trial court. In the close case, the slightest nuances in the evidence may make the difference between guilt or innocence. Time -- here, almost three months -- may well affect the memory of any court hearing a close case. A delay in decision may leave an unfortunate ...


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