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State v. Woodard

Decided: July 8, 1968.


Conford, Labrecque and Halpern. Halpern, A.j.s.c. (temporarily assigned).


Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction for armed robbery. He bases his appeal on four grounds: (1) the court erred in allowing testimony by the State's witnesses identifying defendant before and at trial, the circumstances attending the out-of-court identification being such as to deprive him of a fair trial and a denial of due process; (2) the court erred in refusing to permit defendant to call an alibi witness; (3) the court erred in its supplementary instructions to the jury, and (4) his assigned counsel (not the present counsel on appeal) was so incompetent as to deprive him of the effective assistance of counsel.

The State's proofs indicate that about 3 P.M. on April 27, 1967 an armed robber entered the offices of the Atlantic Manufacturing Company in Newark, New Jersey, held up and robbed its executive vice-president, Joseph Skopaz, and an employee, Minerva Almodovar, and escaped with the sum of $716. The robber was not masked and stood five or six feet from the victims. Skopaz testified he was close enough to the robber so that he could count the bullets in the gun. In addition there was a short exchange of conversation between the victims and the robber. The victims furnished the police with the license number and make of the get-away car and a description of the robber.

Identification of Defendant

The day following the robbery the police showed the victims four photographs of different persons, but they were unable to identify the robber. That same day, the police paraded two men about an hour apart, on the sidewalk some seven feet in front of the Atlantic offices, while the victims peered through the slats of venetian blinds. They were unable to identify the first man. They did immediately identify defendant as the second man. Mrs. Almodovar said defendant was handcuffed to a policeman. Skopaz did not remember whether he was handcuffed. A detective testified he

thought the defendant was handcuffed but not to another policeman, and that the handcuffing was concealed. For purposes of this opinion we assume defendant was handcuffed in a manner apparent to the identifying witnesses.

Both victims made positive identifications of the defendant at the trial. Skopaz further testified that his identification was based on what he remembered from the robbery and was not influenced by the out-of-court identification.

Defendant objected to the State's identification testimony on the ground that the circumstances attending the out-of-court identification were such as to violate his right to counsel, both under the rule of Miranda v. State of Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2 d 694 (1966), and that of Wade v. United States, 388 U.S. 218, 87 S. Ct. 1926, 18 L. Ed. 2 d 1149 (1967). In the course of the colloquy between court and counsel it was clear defendant had in mind, in addition to the absence of counsel at the time of the identification, that the circumstances surrounding the identification were so unfair as to taint the in-court identification. This was based on the reasoning in Wade, supra, that an out-of-court identification made under circumstances suggestive to the witnesses of the belief of the police that the suspect being exhibited is the guilty party has a tendency to cause the witnesses to rely upon that identification rather than the observation made at the time of the criminal occurrence, when identifying the defendant in court (388 U.S., at pp. 232-237, 87 S. Ct. 1926).

The trial court apparently did not recognize the thrust of the latter feature of the defendant's objections. It did not rule on it. It did rule that the Miranda objection was not applicable because the focus of the investigation had not yet sufficiently concentrated on defendant (defendant has not relied upon Miranda on this appeal and we do not discuss the point any further). It further held that the right of a defendant to counsel at a lineup was not applicable in this case because the out-of-court identification had occurred prior to the decision of the Wade case on June 12, 1967. See Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293, 87 S. Ct. 1967, 18

L. Ed. 2 d 1199 (1967). However, it did rule that there was sufficient indication of possible unfairness in the circumstances surrounding the out-of-court identification as to warrant the excluding of the out-of-court identification on the basis of Rule 4 of the Rules of Evidence (1957) (prejudicial danger outweighing value of the evidence from a probative standpoint). Defendant declined to accept this offer, feeling that he ought to have the evidence of the out-of-court identification in the record in order to attempt to convince the jury that the circumstances attending it were such as to taint the reliability of the in-court identification.

Notwithstanding the waiver of the court's offer, aforementioned, defendant never abandoned his position that the in-court identification by the victims should be barred because tainted by the circumstances surrounding the out-of-court identification. As already noted, this particular objection was never ruled upon by the trial judge. We construe Wade to hold that in such a situation the trial judge should make his own determination as to whether, given an unfair prior confrontation for identification, the State can "establish by clear and convincing evidence that the in-court identifications were based upon observations of the suspect other than ...

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