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State v. Hacker

Decided: March 2, 1981.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MORRIS HACKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Mercer County.

Botter, King and McElroy. The opinion of the court was delivered by Botter, P.J.A.D.

Botter

[177 NJSuper Page 534] Defendant and three others, James Joyce, Wayne DeBellis and Miles Burke, were charged in one indictment with various offenses arising out of efforts to influence a Gloucester County jury before whom James Joyce had been tried in 1975 on charges of bribery and misconduct in office. Count 1 charged defendant and his codefendants with conspiracy to obstruct justice and to commit embracery by influencing jurors in the earlier criminal trial against James Joyce. Count 9 charged defendant and Miles Burke with attempting to influence George Smith who was a juror in the Joyce trial. Count 14 charged defendant, Joyce and DeBellis, with obstructing justice. Defendant was convicted on these counts and was sentenced to a term of two to three years for the conspiracy, with concurrent two- to three-year terms on the embracery and obstruction of justice counts concurrent with the sentence on the conspiracy count. In addition, a fine of $1000 was imposed on Count 9.

Defendant's trial had been severed from the trial of his codefendants.*fn1 Defendant's trial, before a jury, took place in February 1979. The Joyce trial in which the jury tampering occurred was held in Gloucester County in September 1975.

Joyce had been chairman of the Camden County Democratic Committee in 1975. Defendant was then his chauffeur and aide. Codefendant DeBellis was an undersheriff of Gloucester County and a friend of Dante Cupiauolo, a former investigator in the Camden County Sheriff's Office. Originally a conspirator, Cupiauolo became an informant for the State Police and he was the State's principal witness in defendant's trial. Miles Burke, who also worked in the Camden County Sheriff's Office, was allegedly used to make contact with the employer of George Smith, the juror in the Joyce trial whom the conspirators had approached.

Cupiauolo testified extensively to meetings of the conspirators beginning in May 1975 after Joyce was indicted in Gloucester County. He introduced DeBellis to Joyce since it was possible that DeBellis would "pull the jury" in Joyce's trial. Cupiauolo testified that he received data from DeBellis concerning prospective jurors and that Joyce instructed him and defendant to check on their voting records. This was confirmed by the testimony of an employee of the Gloucester County Board of Elections who testified that defendant, Cupiauolo and others, posing as representatives of the State Election Committee, spent about four hours in her office in August or September 1975 examining files and recording information from the election board's records. Cupiauolo testified that thereafter, at a meeting with Joyce, DeBellis and defendant, plans were made to contact George Smith and to attempt to bribe him with $300 to $500 which Joyce gave to Cupiauolo. Cupiauolo and DeBellis

went to see juror Smith, but he refused the money. The conspirators continued their efforts to reach Smith through his employer in the hope of persuading him to "hang" the Joyce jury.

During the Joyce trial in 1975, and for some years before and after that trial, defendant was intimately involved with Lorraine Susan Adcock, formerly known as Sue Scalella. They had lived together for some time. It was information originating with Ms. Adcock which alerted the State Police to the jury tampering activities. The State Police started its investigation while the Joyce trial was still in progress and subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury.

The principal issues in the case involve the use of portions of a prior statement given by Ms. Adcock under oath to the State Police and testimony which she gave to a grand jury in December 1975 and April 1977. Ms. Adcock had furnished information which implicated defendant in the jury tampering activities of his codefendants. The testimony related to a conversation with defendant during the earlier Joyce trial in which defendant told Ms. Adcock that Miles Burke told defendant that contact was made with an employer of juror Smith. Other testimony concerned defendant's departure from the courthouse during the Joyce trial to avoid being subpoenaed by the State Police regarding the jury tampering activity. The excerpts from the sworn statement given by Ms. Adcock in November 1975 related to the information regarding Smith's employer which defendant transmitted to Joyce and the fact that "they" wanted defendant to leave the courthouse to avoid being served with a subpoena by the State Police.

Before calling Ms. Adcock as a witness in defendant's trial the prosecutor suspected that she had a loss of memory of the events and conversations with defendant to which she had previously testified before the grand jury. Accordingly, a hearing was held out of the presence of the jury. Ms. Adcock testified she could not recall many of the events to which she [177 NJSuper Page 537] testified before the grand jury. She was found to be a hostile witness, and the trial judge called her as the court's witness so that she could be cross-examined by the State as well as the defense. In doing so the trial judge relied primarily on this court's opinion in State v. Ross , 162 N.J. Super. 47, 52 (App.Div.1978), a holding that was reversed by our Supreme Court after the conclusion of defendant's trial, 80 N.J. 239 (1979). See, also, State v. Singleton , 158 N.J. Super. 517, 522-523 (App.Div.1978), cert. den. 79 N.J. 470 (1978). The holding in State v. Ross, supra , 80 N.J. at 248-250, generally forbids a trial judge to call a recanting prosecution witness in order to avoid the voucher rule embodied in Evid.R. 20 prior to its recent amendment. The rule was designed to prevent the proponent of a witness from using a prior inconsistent statement of the witness substantively, limiting its use to neutralization of current testimony when the proponent has been surprised by that testimony.*fn2 [177 NJSuper Page 538] The State argues that the trial judge's discretion in calling Ms. Adcock as the court's witness should be upheld; that the witness was not called to make out a prima facie case which was otherwise lacking, as in State v. Ross, supra; that Ms. Adcock's sudden unwillingness to testify established surprise; that, to some extent, defense counsel acquiesced in the trial judge's action since this court's holding in Ross was the prevailing law at the time; that the admission of this evidence was at most harmless error and not plain error; that the ruling should be deemed part of the developing law of evidence under Evid.R. 5, and that, in any case, the evidence was admissible as past recollection recorded under Evid.R. 63(1)(b).*fn3 Since there is merit to this last contention, we need not consider the other arguments advanced by the State. However, we note that there

is some merit to the State's contention that the evidence which came into the case in this fashion might constitute harmless error and that to some extent it should be judged by the plain error test because at one point defense counsel conceded that testimony previously given by ...


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