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State v. Peterson

Decided: October 29, 1981.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHNNIE J. PETERSON, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from final judgment of acquittal of the Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County.

Matthews, Pressler and Petrella. The opinion of the court was delivered by Matthews, P.J.A.D.

Matthews

The state grand jury indicted defendant, charging him with misconduct in public office, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:85-1, and bribery, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:93-6. After nine days of trial before a jury he was convicted of official misconduct and acquitted of bribery.

Thereafter defendant filed and argued a motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict. The trial judge, in an oral opinion, found that because identical factual allegations supported both counts of the indictment, the jury, in returning conflicting verdicts, could not have rationally applied the reasonable doubt standard. Judgment of acquittal was entered and the State appeals. R. 2:3-1(b)(3).

Francisco Jueguen and his partner owned a bar in Newark. Jueguen wanted to sell his interest and transfer his liquor license to the partner. On December 12, 1977 the Newark Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) considered the license transfer but reserved decision. Defendant, secretary of the ABC, was present but took no part in the decision to reserve; his duties are clerical.

Jueguen sought information on the ABC's action, went to the ABC office a few times, sought the advice of an attorney and finally requested aid from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.

Jueguen called defendant from state offices and set up an appointment with him for December 28, 1977. The State provided a taping device and that meeting was recorded. During the meeting Jueguen requested defendant's help in securing approval for the transfer. After requesting Jueguen to step outside while he made a phone call, defendant called Jueguen in and told him that three individuals wanted a case of vodka each, and that if Jueguen wished to, he could deliver the liquor and obtain the transfer. Defendant said that he did not want anything for himself and never requested anything for himself.

The State purchased three cases of vodka. On December 30 Jueguen telephoned defendant and said he had the liquor. Defendant then informed Jueguen the transfer had been approved and said he would send someone to pick up the liquor. An ABC investigator picked up the liquor; however, it was subsequently stolen and has not been recovered. Jueguen picked up the license transfer the following day.

We conclude that the trial judge erred in granting a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict. Where bribery and misconduct charges are based on the same factual allegations, an acquittal on the bribery charge does not necessarily impugn the validity of a verdict of guilty on misconduct charges. A review of the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution reveals sufficient evidence to allow a rational jury to find that the State established the essential elements of official misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt.

The United States Supreme Court has held that due process requires the reversal of a conviction if the factfinder has not rationally applied the reasonable doubt standard to the facts in evidence. Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U.S. 307, 317, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2788, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979). Here, the trial judge determined that the defendant's motion for acquittal notwithstanding the verdict presented the following issue under Jackson:

We think the trial judge's inquiry was misdirected.

Jackson requires reversal of a conviction if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, is insufficient to allow a rational factfinder to find the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U.S. at 318-319, 99 S. Ct. at 2789. This is the standard of review traditionally applied by the New Jersey courts. See State v. Reyes , 50 N.J. 454, 458-459 (1967) (the evidence ...


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