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State v. Evans

February 4, 1983

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT F. EVANS, T/A BOB EVANS, INC., DEFENDANT



Haines, A.j.s.c.

Haines

Defendant Robert F. Evans is charged with various acts constituting theft. Two indictments were returned against him by the Burlington County grand jury. They contain a total of 50 counts. In a number of instances the same episode is the subject of two or more counts charging theft. For example, the twenty-second count of the indictment charges him with theft by deception on July 11, 1980, a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4(a), while the twenty-third count reflects the same episode but charges him with theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-9. Defendant now moves for dismissal of the indictments. He claims that the technique of alternative charging in separate counts of the indictment is fatally prejudicial.

N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2 provides:

Conduct denominated theft by this Chapter [titled, "Theft and Related Offenses"] constitutes a single offense, but each episode or transaction may be the subject of a separate prosecution and conviction. A charge of theft may be supported by evidence that it was committed in any manner that would be theft under this chapter, notwithstanding the specification of a different manner in the indictment or accusation, subject only to the power of the court to ensure fair trial by granting a bill of particulars, discovery, a continuance, or other appropriate relief where the conduct of the defense would be prejudiced by lack of fair notice or by surprise.

The Evans indictments fractionalize a particular criminal transaction into distinct acts, charging each as a separate crime. The Legislature could have done this. State v. Best, 70 N.J. 56 (1976). In the present case, however, it did the opposite: it required the various actions constituting theft, when they occur as part of a single transaction, to be considered as one offense. The indictments violate this requirement.

Prior to the adoption of N.J.S.A. 2C alternative charging was an accepted practice in this State, and may still be proper when the offense is not theft. In State v. LaFera, 35 N.J. 75 (1961), the court said:

It has long been settled that a single offense may be charged in several counts to meet various turns the proofs may take at the trial and that a single act or transaction may be charged in several counts where a number of criminal statutes may reach it. [at 91]

See, also, State v. Coggin, 30 N.J. 129 (1959). A prosecutor risked the loss of a conviction by not following this practice; if she charged a defendant with receiving stolen goods but proved only larceny, for example, there could be no conviction for larceny. State v. Shelbrick, 33 N.J. Super. 7 (App.Div.1954). The Legislature corrected this problem by the adoption of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-8 d, which provides: "A defendant may be convicted of an offense included in an offense charged whether or not the included offense is an indictable offense." Thus, in connection with a particular charge, not only lesser included offense may be the subject of a conviction, but, when theft is charged, "horizontal" offenses set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:20 may also be so subject. The alternative charging technique employed here is not only unnecessary, but, by virtue of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2, is improper. The State's indictments are multiplicious.

"Multiplicity" occurs when a single offense is charged in several counts of an indictment. It is to be distinguished from "duplicity," the inclusion of two or more separate offenses in one count. U.S. v. DeLaTorre, 634 F.2d 792, 794 (5 Cir.1981), reh en banc denied 640 F.2d 385 (1981); Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure: Criminal 2d, ยง 142 at 469 (1982).

Multiplicity is not fatal. Wright, op. cit., at 475. It may, however, be improper. Sanabria v. U.S., 437 U.S. 54, 66, n. 20, 98 S. Ct. 2170, 2180 n. 20, 57 L. Ed. 2d 43 (1978). A protective order may be needed.

"[T]he prolix pleading may have some psychological effect upon a jury by suggesting to it that defendant has committed not one but several crimes." ...


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