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State v. Ingenito

Decided: July 27, 1981.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 169 N.J. Super. 524 (1979).

For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and Pollock. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Handler, J. Schreiber, J., concurring in result.


Ralph Ingenito was arrested and charged with numerous crimes in several indictments. One of the indictments charged, in multiple counts, several weapons offenses, namely the unlicensed transfer of weapons, prohibited by N.J.S.A. 2A:151-32, receipt of stolen property, proscribed by N.J.S.A. 2A:139-1, and possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:151-8.*fn1 Defendant moved to sever the counts charging the unlicensed transfer of a weapon and the receipt of stolen property, under N.J.S.A. 2A:151-32 and N.J.S.A. 2A:139-1, respectively, from the charge of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon under N.J.S.A. 2A:151-8. The court granted the motion on the ground that the prosecution of these combined counts would be unfair since evidence of a prior conviction that is essential to prove the charge under N.J.S.A. 2A:151-8 would be clearly irrelevant, prejudicial and inadmissible with respect to the transfer and possession charges. Accordingly, the charge for the violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:151-8 was severed and the trial on the remaining counts went forward.

At that trial, the prosecution contended that defendant, who described his occupation as a self-employed "flea market dealer," had sold four weapons illegally to one James Camp on four separate occasions, one of the guns having been stolen. Based primarily upon the testimony of Mr. Camp, as supplemented by

Detective William Graham, Ingenito was convicted of the unlicensed transfer of weapons, but found not guilty of receiving stolen property. One week later he was brought to trial before a different jury on the previously severed charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. This crime required that two things be proven in order for a conviction to obtain -- that the defendant possessed a weapon and that he had a previous criminal conviction.

As to the second element, Ingenito stipulated that he had been convicted of breaking and entering and larceny in 1961. Hence, the State properly relied upon this stipulation as proof of a prior conviction. With respect to the element of possession, the prosecution decided to meet its burden by introducing a single piece of evidence -- the county clerk's testimony of the record of defendant's recent conviction for the unlicensed transfer of the weapons, being the same unlicensed transfer that was the basis for the charge of possession in the ongoing trial. The trial court permitted the prosecutor to proceed in this fashion even though the prosecution did not show or assert that either the key witness or any other person who had testified in the earlier trial was unavailable. In fact, Mr. Camp was present in the courtroom during this second hearing.

The defendant objected to this prosecution tactic. The trial judge overruled this objection, however, believing that Ingenito had "ample opportunity to present his case" at the earlier trial and that, therefore, concerns of judicial and prosecutorial economy permitted the use of this technique. Upon denial of a motion to dismiss at the end of the State's case, the defense rested without introducing any evidence of its own. Based upon the stipulation of a prior conviction and the record of the conviction for the unlicensed transfer of weapons, Ingenito was convicted by the second jury of the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

On appeal, he asserted that the prior conviction had been used as a collateral estoppel against him and that a criminal trial use

of that doctrine against a defendant was unconstitutional.*fn2 The Appellate Division rejected this contention and affirmed the conviction. 169 N.J. Super. 524 (1979).

A majority of the Appellate Division determined that the use of the prior conviction for the unlawful transfer of weapons, in the circumstances of this case, was not a true collateral estoppel because (1) the result in the earlier case was not binding upon the jury in the subsequent trial and (2) the defendant had been permitted to introduce evidence to challenge or controvert the fact of possession even though he chose not to do so. Id. at 531-532. Thus, since the record of the prior conviction was relevant because it had "some tendency in reason to prove the basic fact of possession, Evid.R. 1(2)," it was, in the view of the majority, properly admitted into evidence at the trial. Id.

Judge Morgan concurred with the judgment of her colleagues but for different reasons. She believed that the evidential use of the record of a prior conviction as the sole proof of an essential fact at a subsequent criminal trial of a different charge constituted, in reality, an attempt by the State to "benefit from the doctrine of collateral estoppel," notwithstanding the opportunity of the defendant to offer countervailing evidence. She concluded, however, that, in the circumstances of this case, collateral estoppel was constitutionally permissible. Id. at 533-535.

We granted the defendant's petition for certification on September 4, 1980, 85 N.J. 140.


In State v. Gonzalez, 75 N.J. 181 (1977), this Court defined collateral estoppel as "that branch of the broader law of res judicata which bars relitigation of any issue which was actually determined in a prior action, generally between the same parties, involving a different claim or cause of action." Id. at 186. Although first developed in civil litigation, it has been applied in criminal cases. See, e.g., Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 443-444, 90 S. Ct. 1189, 1194, 25 L. Ed. 2d 469, 475-476 (1970). However, the doctrine has been employed in criminal prosecutions primarily by formerly acquitted defendants, and, in that context, has been viewed as derivative of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against double jeopardy for the same offense. Id.; State v. Redinger, 64 N.J. 41, 45-46 (1973); see Comment, "The Use of Collateral Estoppel Against the Accused," 69 Colum.L.Rev. 515 (1969); cf. State v. Cioffe, 130 N.J.L. 160 (E. & A. 1943) (double jeopardy does not apply to prosecutions by separate sovereigns; therefore, acquittal of a federal charge does not bar State prosecution for offense based on the same transaction); United States v. Braunstein, 474 F. Supp. 1, 8-9 (D.N.J.1979) (same).

The affirmative use of collateral estoppel against a defendant in a criminal prosecution is not predicated upon any constitutional mandate. In this case, to illustrate, the use by the State of the defendant's prior conviction was offered for reasons of convenience and expediency. Its approval by the trial court was based narrowly upon notions of judicial economy and the belief that defendant would not be unfairly treated since he had already had the opportunity fully to try the facts in issue in a preceding case and could offer additional proofs in the pending trial.

It is our view that the use of defendant's prior conviction in the trial of this case constituted collateral estoppel against the defendant and impinged upon his constitutional right of trial by jury, U.S. Const., Amend. VI, N.J. Const. (1947), Art. I, para. 9.

Accordingly, we reverse the conviction below and remand the matter for a new trial.


The right to trial by jury is one of the most cherished rights in the long history of our Anglo-American jurisprudence. It has existed since at least the Magna Charta and perhaps beyond, Thompson v. Utah, 170 U.S. 343, 349-350, 18 S. Ct. 620, 622, 42 L. Ed. 1061, 1066 (1898), and was included in the Declaration of Rights by the first Continental Congress, Capital Traction Co. v. Hof, 174 U.S. 1, 6, 19 S. Ct. 580, 582, 43 L. Ed. 873, 875 (1899), as well as the Declaration of Independence and two separate sections of the United States Constitution, Art. 3, ยง 2, cl. 3 and the Sixth Amendment. It has been made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 88 S. Ct. 1444, 20 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1968), reh. den. 392 U.S. 947, 88 S. Ct. 2270, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1412 (1968). In this State, the Constitution of 1776 expressly provided that "the inestimable right of trial by jury shall remain confirmed, as a part of the law of this colony, without repeal, forever." N.J. Const. (1776), Art. XXII. The right to "an impartial jury . . . in all criminal prosecutions" was similarly guaranteed by the 1844 Constitution, N.J. Const. (1844), Art. I, para. 7-8, and the present constitution of course, reaffirms that "the right to trial by jury shall remain inviolate." N.J. Const. (1947), Art. I, para. 9.

The issue in this proceeding is whether the use of collateral estoppel in a criminal trial impinges upon that enshrined right. As the jury right is "an object of deep interest and solicitude . . . each encroachment upon it has been watched with great jealousy." Parsons v. Bedford, 28 U.S. 433, 446, 7 L. Ed. 732, 736 (1830). "It is a constitutional guarantee . . . to be scrupulously protected from encroachment or impairment with respect to a criminal defendant." State v. Simon, 79 N.J. 191, 199 (1979).

Many strands are interwoven to make up the composite guarantee which constitutes the right to trial by jury in a criminal case. One major strand inheres in the nondelegable and nonremovable responsibility of the jury to decide the facts. While it is the court's province to decide the law, and to instruct the jury as to the principles of law that govern its deliberations, it is the jury, and the jury alone, that determines the facts. See, e.g., Baltimore & C. Line v. Redman, 295 U.S. 654, 657, 55 S. Ct. 890, 891, 79 L. Ed. 1636, 1638 (1935). The jury's fact-finding function is all-inclusive and encompasses the evaluation of the credibility of witnesses and the weight and worth of evidence. See, e.g., Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 242-243, 15 S. Ct. 337, 339, 39 L. Ed. 409, 411 (1895).

The jury in the trial of a criminal case is responsible also for finding the truth. This entails not only the determination of basic facts but also the ultimate question of guilt or innocence. In the discharge of these fundamental responsibilities, the jury must consider solely the evidence adduced in the case before it. Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 485, 98 S. Ct. 1930, 1934, 56 L. Ed. 2d 468, 475 (1978). It is therefore important that the evidence be as full and complete as possible in order to aid the search for truth and assure the just and correct result. It is not, however, the evidence of record that establishes a defendant's guilt or innocence but the jury's determination of the facts drawn from such evidence. The "question is not whether guilt may be spelt out of a record, but whether guilt has been found by a jury. . . ." Bollenbach v. United States, 326 U.S. 607, 614, 66 S. Ct. 402, 406, 90 L. Ed. 350, 355 (1946); United States v. McClain, 545 F.2d 988, 1003 (5 Cir. 1977) ("[w]hen the jury is not given an opportunity to decide a relevant factual question, it is not sufficient to urge that the record contains evidence that would support a finding of guilt even under a correct view of the law").

The responsibility of the jury in the domain of factual findings, and ultimate guilt or innocence, is so pronounced and

preeminent that we accept inconsistent verdicts that accrue to the benefit of a defendant. Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393-394, 52 S. Ct. 189, 190-191, 76 L. Ed. 356, 358-359 (1932). Indeed, a jury has the prerogative of returning a verdict of innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. It may also refuse to return a verdict in spite of the adequacy of the evidence. State v. Czachor, 82 N.J. 392 (1980). This is indicative of a belief that the jury in a criminal prosecution serves as the conscience of the community and the embodiment of the common sense and feelings reflective of society as a whole. See, e.g., United States v. Quarles, 350 U.S. 11, 18-19, 76 S. Ct. 1, 5-6, 100 L. Ed. 8, 15 (1955).

In a broad sense, the nature and scope of the right to a jury trial can be viewed in terms of these important functions that are ascribed to the jury and constitute the basic duties of the jury. In other contexts, involving different legal relationships, rights and duties are frequently viewed as correlative of one another, rights implying duties and, in turn, duties creating rights. See R. Dworkin, ...

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