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State v. Satkin

Decided: March 21, 1974.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOSEPH SATKIN, HENRY PITTS AND JOYCE SMITH, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Halpern, Matthews and Bischoff.

Per Curiam

The State in this interlocutory appeal seeks the reversal of an order compelling it to disclose to defendant certain information prior to trial.

Defendants were indicted for arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and four counts of murder. The indictment for conspiracy is based on the charge that defendants conspired with Dennis Priester to burn certain dwelling houses not owned by them. The fires were started by Dennis Priester, and during the course of the burning, four persons inside the buildings were killed. Their deaths form the basis for the charges of murder.

While Dennis Priester gave a statement to the Prosecutor admitting he started the fires, gave inculpatory testimony before the Grand Jury, and is named as a coconspirator, he has not been indicted.

In the course of discovery, George Priester was named by the State as a person with knowledge of relevant information who might be called as a State witness.

After hearing defendants' motion for additional discovery, the court ordered the State to reveal to defendants whether or not Dennis Priester and George Priester had "* * * been granted testimonial immunity with regard to any statements or proposed testimony regarding the above-entitled indictments, or in the alternative, whether or not the Prosecutor has entered into plea bargaining negotiations with said material witness * * * for cooperating with the State and testifying for the State, and if so, what agreement has been made as a result of same * * *." The State's motion for leave to appeal that order was granted.

Thereafter on October 3, 1973 (one week prior to a peremptory trial date) defendants moved for additional discovery, and the court ordered the Prosecutor's Office to turn over to defendants "copies of any and all vouchers, checks and records regarding the disbursement of monies to Dennis Priester by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office while the said Dennis Priester was in protective custody * * *."

The State again sought leave to appeal that order; leave was granted, and the two interlocutory appeals were consolidated.

While the State concedes that the information sought by defendants and ordered by the court would have to be furnished to defendants at the time of trial, it contends it was error to compel the disclosure prior to trial, arguing (a) there is no rule specifically compelling disclosure of the information and (b) to do so would impede and interfere with the Prosecutor's preparation of the case for trial. It is further contended that the order respecting disclosure of monies paid to Dennis Priester imposes an undue burden on the Prosecutor's Office and compels it to provide, on a daily or weekly basis, information of expenditures made to maintain the material witness.

The scope of permissible discovery in criminal cases has been drastically extended by both Rules of Court and recent, reported decisions. We now subscribe to extremely broad, automatic and bilateral disclosure prior to trial. R. 3:13-3. State v. Montague, 55 N.J. 387, 395 (1970).

The philosophy underlying this discovery is that "the interests of truth and justice are best served by broad mutual discovery before trial." ...


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