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State v. Costa

Decided: January 19, 1976.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOSEPH COSTA, JOHN CUFF, JOHN DEL MAURO AND GERALD DONNERSTAG, DEFENDANTS



Fusco, J.s.c.

Fusco

In this case Newark Municipal Court Clerk John Del Mauro, Newark Police Detective Joseph Costa, retired Newark Detective John Cuff and Gerald Donnerstag are charged with conspiracy to commit the crimes of misconduct in office, bribery and extortion. Del Mauro, Costa and Cuff are also charged with misconduct in office, bribery and extortion.

The court must rule, during this trial, on the admissibility of character testimony going to the "honesty" and "truthfulness" of Cuff and Del Mauro, who themselves did not testify.

The State alleges that the detectives made a deal with two persons arrested by them to have the charges modified so that they would not receive jail terms. The suspects, Gerald Festa and Harold Ellis, were arrested on July 22, 1970 while burglarizing a home in Newark.

The State offered evidence that Donnerstag was the go-between in setting up the deal with the detectives, who were allegedly paid $1,800. The State alleged that the detectives withheld information from an assistant county prosecutor so that the charges against Festa and Ellis would be modified to larceny of under $500 and so that the municipal court would have jurisdiction. N.J.S.A. 2A:8-22.

Festa and Ellis pleaded guilty to larceny in municipal court. Festa testified that the defendant Costa told him to conceal his previous arrests from a probation officer working on a presentence report after he had pleaded guilty, and to give false information as to his place of birth and schooling. Prior to sentencing on September 24, 1970 before Newark Municipal Court Judge Molinaro, Festa said that defendant Del Mauro, then deputy court clerk, approached Donnerstag, who had accompanied defendants to the courtroom, and demanded $1,000 or he would transfer the case to another, more severe judge.

Festa said that Donnerstag and Del Mauro then agreed on a $200 payment, and that he gave the money to Donnerstag, who handed it to Del Mauro.

Costa testified and denied the allegations. He also presented character witnesses who attested to Costa's "truthfulness," "honesty" and "integrity" and that he was "lawabiding." Cuff and Del Mauro presented character witnesses who testified in a like manner: however, these defendants did not testify in their own behalf.

The State has moved for the court to instruct the jury that they should not consider the testimony of the character witnesses for Cuff and Del Mauro, contending that since they had not taken the stand, the character testimony as it

went to "truthfulness" and "honesty" was not relevant to any trait in issue in the case, as required by Evid. R. 47.

Defendants argue that even though a defendant does not take the stand, all of these issues are traits of character to be considered by the jury in determining whether the State has ...


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