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State v. Thomas

Decided: October 7, 1969.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JONATHAN THOMAS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Goldmann, Lewis and Matthews. The opinion of the court was delivered by Matthews, J.A.D.

Matthews

Defendant was indicted for robbery (N.J.S.A. 2A:141-1), tried by a jury and found guilty, and thereafter sentenced to an indeterminate term at the Yardville Reformatory. This appeal followed.

On the evening of September 22, 1967 Mary Nolan entered the outer vestibule of her apartment house at 51-53 North Park Street, Orange, and rang the bell to her apartment. She heard a noise and looked behind her and there saw two men. One of the men grabbed her about the neck with a length of clothesline, and then both began to hit her about the face and head. Her handbag was taken, and the two individuals fled. The entire incident consumed a very short period of time.

Immediately after the attack Mary ran to a police station located at a short distance from the apartment house. As she approached the station house, she saw several officers standing in the driveway. She informed them that she had been mugged and they thereupon accompanied her in a patrol car to the scene of the incident. She directed them to the right-hand side of the apartment building and pointed to the direction where she had seen the two men flee. She remained in the patrol car while the three officers conducted a search of the area.

Detective Wells of the Orange Police Department testified that at approximately 10:40 P.M. Mrs. Nolan entered the driveway of police headquarters complaining that she had been mugged. She was holding her throat and her eye and lip were swollen. Wells then proceeded to 51-53 North Park Street, at the direction of Mrs. Nolan. In the rear of the building near the area of the garages he found a pocketbook and a length of rope. The pocketbook belonged to Mrs. Nolan and contained approximately $123 and personal papers.

Sergeant Burke and Captain O'Malley, both of the Orange Police Department, also responded to 51-53 North Park Street with Mrs. Nolan. They walked down the driveway to the rear of the apartment building where Burke spotted

two Negro males. Burke ordered them to halt, but both jumped fences and one escaped. The other, who turned out to be defendant, ran into the arms of O'Malley.

Defendant testified that he was in Orange on the evening in question but that he was alone. He stated that he went down the driveway adjacent to 51-53 North Park Street for the purpose of relieving himself. He claims that as he was leaving the driveway he was apprehended by O'Malley.

Mrs. Nolan was taken to the Orange Police Station where she was shown defendant. She hesitated in making an identification until defendant put on dark glasses which he was carrying. When he complied she stated, "Well, it is his stature and his build and his height, and I hate to say it but I am sure." In court, when asked if she could identify the defendant as one of the men she stated, "Well, he is slim like him and looks like him and I am sure it is him." Moreover, she noted that at the time of the offense defendant was not wearing a mustache as he was at the time of the trial, and, in addition, that his hair was thinner at the time the offense was committed.

Defendant first contends that the circumstances of his identification by the victim were so suggestive as to give rise to substantial likelihood of misidentification, thereby depriving him of due process of law. In support of this contention he relies on several facts incident to the identification procedure: that he was alone when viewed by Mrs. Nolan and not part of a line-up; he was the only male Negro shown to her; she was in need of medical attention when making the identification; she had but very short opportunity to observe the persons who assaulted her; and, finally, prior to the identification she was able to give only a vague description of her assailants. Essentially, defendant argues that the totality of these facts was such as to deprive him of a fair process of identification.

The United States Supreme Court in Stovall v. Denno , 388 U.S. 293, 87 S. Ct. 1967, 18 L. Ed. 2 d 1199 (1967), has set forth generally the ...


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