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State v. Rowe

Decided: December 21, 1970.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Proctor, J.


The defendant James Rowe was indicted for knowingly receiving and having in his possession a stolen Cadillac automobile valued at $4,500 in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:139-1. The jury found him guilty and he was fined $1,500 and placed on probation until the fine was paid. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction in an unreported opinion. This Court granted defendant's petition for certification. 54 N.J. 502 (1969).

The State's proofs showed that in February, 1966, the defendant purchased a new Cadillac from Central Cadillac, Inc., an authorized dealer in Newark, and as part payment traded in a 1965 Cadillac later found to be a stolen vehicle. A representative of Central Cadillac testified that he appraised the 1965 car at about $4,000. He further stated that the serial number plate which was attached to the door post was broken so that one of the digits in the serial number was illegible. He had a mechanic check the serial number on the motor block and the number was found to coincide with that on the defendant's certificate of title. As a consequence, the representative accepted the 1965 car in trade.

There was also expert testimony that the serial number on the motor block which corresponded with the number on the certificate of title had been altered.*fn1 The true serial number was found at a secret third location on the car. This last number conclusively showed that the 1965 Cadillac was one which had been stolen from a hotel parking lot in East Orange in August of 1965.

Detective Coe of the New Jersey State Police testified that "William Jones" appeared as the owner of the stolen

vehicle on a counterfeit registration from the State of Minnesota. That registration was transferred to New Jersey on February 7, 1966, and listed a Montclair address for Jones. The address was later learned to be fictitious. Jones was never found. Coe further testified that he interviewed the defendant late in February, 1966, and that the defendant said that he had won $2,800 playing cards with Jones and that, since Jones did not have the money, he gave the car to the defendant.

The file in the Bureau of Division of Motor Vehicles covering the ownership of the 1965 Cadillac showed a Minnesota registration certificate issued to William Jones, an application for a certificate of ownership signed by Jones, 96 Lexington Avenue, Montclair, and dated February 7, 1966; a New Jersey certificate of ownership issued to Jones the same day; a certificate dated February 15, 1966 containing the signature of Jones and the defendant and indicating a transfer of ownership from Jones to defendant and from defendant to Central Cadillac. The last transfer occurred on February 17, 1966.

The defendant denied any knowledge or suspicion that the car was stolen. He testified that he started playing cards with Jones and others around the Christmas holidays in 1965, and that the games continued two or three times a week into February 1966. Jones owed him $2,800 for "various card games" and the defendant agreed to cancel this debt and pay an additional $1,200 for the car. He negotiated with Central Cadillac for the purchase of a 1966 Cadillac and was allowed $4,500 for trading in the 1965 Cadillac. He was given a check for $1,200 by Central Cadillac which he used to pay the balance due Jones. On cross-examination defendant said he was a partner in an automobile repair business.

Two witnesses, Wilson and Franklin, testified on behalf of the defendant. They said they were present at the various card games with Jones and the defendant. Franklin testified that Jones lost all his money playing cards, and that Jones

gave the defendant a bill of sale for his car in return for his debt.

On this appeal the defendant first urges that the trial judge committed plain error in his charge. First, he argues that by reading to the jury the enumerated statutory defenses contained in N.J.S.A. 2A:139-1, the trial judge unfairly left the impression with the jury that those defenses were exclusive. There is no merit to the contention. Although these five defenses should not be read to a jury, State v. DiRienzo, 53 N.J. 360, 378 (1969), the defendant here suffered no prejudice since ...

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