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State v. Riley

Decided: January 27, 1976.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHARLES RILEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber and Judge Conford. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J.

Sullivan

Defendant was indicted on a charge that he unlawfully "possessed in a vehicle, to wit, an automobile, a rifle" without having first obtained a firearms purchaser identification card, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:151-41. There were two other persons in the automobile with defendant at the time, one of whom, the owner of the rifle, had been issued such a card. Following a trial and a jury verdict of "guilty of constructive possession," the trial judge, on defendant's motion, set aside the jury verdict and entered a judgment of acquittal, holding in effect that where all three occupants of the automobile were in joint possession of the rifle and one of them had a firearms purchaser identification card, the requirements of the statute were met as to all of those in joint possession of the rifle.

The State, pursuant to R. 2:3-1(b)(3), appealed the judgment n.o.v. and the Appellate Division affirmed on the same grounds given by the trial judge. We granted the State's petition for certification. 68 N.J. 150 (1975). We reverse and reinstate the jury verdict of guilty.

The evidence showed that in the early morning hours of December 30, 1972, Joseph Shipley, James Meadows and defendant decided to "jack" for deer.*fn1 Shipley brought along

a Winchester rifle which he had purchased after having been issued a firearms purchaser identification card. The three men used Meadows' car which was equipped with a high-powered portable searchlight. Defendant sat in the back of the car. There was some dispute as to where the rifle was located. Shipley, who testified as a State witness, said it was in the back of the car with defendant who was to shoot a deer if one was spotted. However, the State conservation officer, who saw the occupants of the car "lighting for deer," gave chase and eventually overtook the car, testified that he found the rifle lying lengthwise on the console between the two front bucket seats.

The statute which defendant was charged with violating is part of our Gun Control Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:151-1 et seq., and in pertinent part reads as follows:

N.J.S.A. 2A:151-41.

"Except as hereinafter provided, any person who carries, holds or possesses in any automobile * * * or other vehicle * * * or in his possession or under his control in any public place or public area:

b. A rifle or shotgun without first having obtained a firearms purchaser identification card in accordance with the provisions of this chapter * * *

c. * * * is guilty of a high misdemeanor."*fn2

The statutory provisions concerning a firearms purchaser identification card are contained in N.J.S.A. 2A:151-32 et seq., the relevant portions of which may be summarized as follows. Section 32 provides that no person shall receive, purchase or otherwise acquire a rifle shotgun unless such person possesses and exhibits a firearms purchaser identification card (hereinafter identification card) and signs a written certification on a prescribed form stating that he presently ...


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