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State in Interest of W.J.

Decided: October 20, 1971.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF W.J.


Kilkenny, Labrecque and Lane. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lane, J.A.D.

Lane

Juvenile, 17 years old, pleaded not guilty to two complaints charging him with breaking and entering. Complaint No. J-2262-69 charged that on May 14, 1970 he broke into a Mr. Softee truck with four other juveniles and stole $26. Complaint No. J-2267-69 charged that the juvenile and three others broke and entered the Club Social Rosareno with intent to steal on May 14, 1970. The trial court found that both complaints were sustained, declared the juvenile a delinquent and after reviewing his extensive record committed him to the New Jersey Reformatory (now Youth Correctional Institution Complex).

Juvenile argues that complaint No. J-2267-69 should not have been sustained because the only admissible evidence

supporting it was his uncorroborated confession and that, therefore, the matter should be remanded for resentencing.

During the investigation of the breaking and entering of the Mr. Softee truck, the juvenile started to tell the investigating officer "about a break and entry the night before at the Rosareno Social Club, 180 Passaic Street, and he named as his accomplices there. [ sic ]" Thereafter the juvenile gave the police a written statement concerning the breaking and entering of Club Social Rosareno. It was upon this statement that the trial court found the charge sustained.

Juvenile argues that the State introduced no proof of the alleged breaking and entering at the Club Social Rosareno other than his confession and that since the State failed to offer any independent corroborative proof that the crime did occur and that the juvenile was responsible, the adjudication of delinquency based on that complaint was unlawful.

An uncorroborated extra-judicial confession cannot provide the evidential basis to sustain a conviction for crime. State v. Lucas , 30 N.J. 37, 51 (1959). Cf. State v. Ordog , 45 N.J. 347, 364 (1964), cert. den. 384 U.S. 1022, 86 S. Ct. 1942, 16 L. Ed. 2 d 1025 (1966). This rule has been applied to juvenile proceedings. State in the Interest of B.D. , 110 N.J. Super. 585, 595 (App. Div. 1969); aff'd o.b. 56 N.J. 325 (1970). Cf. State in the Interest of Carlo , 48 N.J. 224, 236 (1966).

The standard determining the necessary quantum of corroboration was thoroughly discussed in State v. Lucas , 30 N.J. 37, 51-58, supra. Justice Burling noted that there were two views. One view was that the State must offer independent proof of the corpus delicti. The other view was that the extrinsic proof need not touch on the corpus delicti but must be of such a nature as to give the confession an aura of authenticity. In defining corpus delicti , the court noted the three basic elements in proof of any crime: occurrence of loss or injury; criminal causation of the loss or injury (i.e. , the crime was committed by someone); defendant's

identity or connection with the crime (i.e. , that the defendant did in fact commit the crime). The court then noted that it had been suggested that the correct definition of corpus delicti referred only to the fact of specific loss or injury, thus placing on the State the burden of proving only that the crime occurred. 7 Wigmore, Evidence (3d ed. 1940), ยง 2072 at 401. The prevailing view, however, was that the term corpus delicti also comprehends the second element, i.e. , someone's criminality. The court then noted that cases in New Jersey have held that a confession, corroborated by independent proof of the corpus delicti , will support a conviction for the crime. If such proof is lacking, it will suffice if the confession is corroborated by other evidence tending to strengthen the confession so that the criminal agency as well as defendant's connection with the crime may be proven by the confession itself. Justice Burling then held that the State must introduce independent proof of facts and circumstances which strengthen or bolster the confession and tend to generate a belief in its trustworthiness, in addition to independent proof of loss or injury:

It might be argued that the State ought also to prove criminal agency before a confession be considered as evidential, in order to assure that confession was not the imaginary product of a mentally diseased or deficient mind. But if criminal agency must be proven aliunde the confession, why not the defendant's connection with the crime? There seems to be little difference in kind between convicting the innocent where no crime has been committed and convicting the innocent where a crime has been committed, but not by the accused. Yet, no jurisdiction imposes such a requirement, for that would in effect inverse the rule and render the confession merely corroborative of a crime independently proven. Indeed, it is ofttimes more likely that persons giving false confessions because of mental disease or defect will confess to crimes where there is abundant proof of the two elements of the corpus delicti but where there is no proof as to the perpetrator. The danger is not so much that such persons will confess to non-criminal occurrences but rather to crimes committed by some ...


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