For reversal as modified -- Justices Jacobs, Sullivan, Pashman and Clifford and Judge Conford. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J.
This Court granted direct certification of the instant appeal while it was pending unheard in the Appellate Division to review the dismissal by the trial court of an indictment charging defendants with conspiring to pervert and obstruct justice, and a separate indictment charging defendant Redinger with two counts of perjury. For reasons hereinafter set forth, we hereby reinstate the conspiracy indictment, and the first count of the indictment charging defendant Redinger with perjury.
The case had its genesis in the issuance of a traffic citation to Alan A. Adrian charging that on May 2, 1972, on Main Street in the Borough of Ramsey, he committed the offense of careless driving.*fn1 On May 23, 1972, Adrian appeared in traffic court through counsel, pleaded not guilty and obtained an adjournment of the hearing until June 7 next to enable him to subpoena Brian Redinger as a witness.*fn2
On June 7, Redinger appeared as a witness for Adrian and testified under oath that he and not Adrian was driving the car when the careless driving infraction took place, but that when the officer stopped them Adrian was operating the vehicle. The officer upon being asked by the court stated he "wasn't sure" Adrian was the driver when "the vehicle
took off." Consequently the judge dismissed the complaint against Adrian, and a ticket for careless driving was issued to Redinger returnable June 13, 1972.*fn3
On June 9, 1972, the police obtained written signed statements from two girls to the effect that they witnessed the act of careless driving in question and that defendant Adrian, whom they both knew, was driving the car. When Redinger appeared in traffic court on June 13 he pleaded guilty to the charge of careless driving. However, the judge stated that he wanted the story under oath. Accordingly, Redinger was sworn and testified that he was driving Adrian's car at the time and "burned rubber" because he "wasn't used to the car." According to Redinger, Adrian was riding in the back seat of the car and when they got to the end of Mechanic Street, Adrian took the wheel. (Apparently at that point the officer overtook the car.) The judge then accepted Redinger's plea of guilty of careless driving and fined him $25 and costs.
It was not disclosed to Redinger at the time that the police had the statements from the two girls. However, the judge was apparently aware of these statements. He did not accept Redinger's plea of guilty without first putting Redinger under oath and having him testify that he was driving the car. He also reminded Redinger of the perjury laws of this State.
Also, there is some indication that the police, as a result of their investigation of the careless driving incident, had decided to charge Adrian and Redinger with criminal conduct if Redinger adhered to his story that he was the driver. The record shows that the June 13 hearing was held at night and complaints charging perjury and subornation were issued the same night. It is even inferable that the complaints were prepared in advance since the municipal prosecutor, at a later date, told the county court that: "That
night, [June 13], I understand from my file those individuals were handed warrants charging them with a violation of New Jersey Statute -- charging them with * * * perjury."
On June 25, 1972, the complaints were referred to the Grand Jury which returned three indictments. The first charged both defendants with conspiracy to obstruct justice by agreeing to have Redinger testify falsely that he (Redinger) was the driver of the car in the case in which Adrian was charged with careless driving. The second charged that Adrian sometime between May 2, 1972 and June 7, 1972 suborned Redinger to commit perjury in the case in which Adrian was charged with careless driving. The third indictment contained two counts. The first count charged Redinger with committing perjury on June 7, 1972 in the case in which Adrian was charged with careless driving. The second count charged Redinger with committing perjury on June 13, 1972.
On defendants' motion, the trial court dismissed the indictments charging conspiracy and perjury on the ground of collateral estoppel, but denied the motion as to the charge of subornation of perjury. The court held that the question of fact as to who was driving the car at the time had been litigated at the June 7 and June 13 hearings, determined by final judgments, and that determination was conclusive on the State and barred it from relitigating the same issue against these defendants in another proceeding. However, the court ruled that the collateral estoppel did not extend ...