On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County.
King, Deighan and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, P.J.A.D.
The defendant claims that the judge improperly permitted the jury to use three prior theft-related convictions to evaluate his predisposition to sell drugs. Defendant was charged in an eight-count indictment with possession and distribution of drugs, methamphetamine and heroin. Entrapment was the defense. He was tried by a jury and convicted of six counts -- possession (2), possession with intent to distribute (2) and distribution of methamphetamine (2), in violation of Title 24. The heroin counts were dismissed.
The offenses occurred on November 22 and 23, 1981. The State's case was based on sales to an undercover officer on these days. Defendant was sentenced on merged counts 1, 2 and 3 to a term of six years in the State Prison and on merged counts 4, 5 and 6 to a concurrent six-year term in State Prison.
The sole point on this appeal is the alleged prejudicial error in charging the jury that prior theft-related criminal convictions could be used to infer a predisposition to commit the crimes of distribution of methamphetamine charged in counts 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the indictment and thus to blunt the defense of entrapment.
Initially, there was a Sands hearing, State v. Sands, 76 N.J. 127 (1978), after which the judge permitted three prior convictions -- one in 1972 for receiving stolen property, a second in 1975 for larceny and breaking and entering, and a third in 1976
for receiving stolen property -- to be used on the issue of credibility alone. The defendant then testified and interposed the defense of entrapment. In his charge the judge told the jurors that since entrapment had been raised by the defendant, they could consider the prior convictions to evaluate the defense of entrapment, i.e., for the purpose of determining whether the officer or informant actually caused defendant to commit the crime, or whether defendant was a predisposed person ready to commit the crime with minimal inducement.
The charge was as follows
On the other hand, the state through cross-examination and its own witnesses has introduced evidence to demonstrate, if you believe it, that the defendant was not an innocent person who would not have committed the offense were it not for the inducement of the law enforcement officer. Therefore, for this purpose the Court has permitted to be introduced for your consideration evidence of previous convictions of crime and evidence intended to prove ready compliance by the defendant with minimal inducement or easily yielding to the opportunity to commit the offense to prove the defendant's predisposition to commit the offense. Whether that evidence of prior convictions, and here I am going back just a moment. I told you earlier that prior convictions could only be used for the purpose of effecting credibility. In this particular case in view of the fact that entrapment has been raised as a defense, you may consider those prior convictions to evaluate the defense of entrapment which has been raised by the defendant for the purpose of determining whether or not the officer or informant actually caused the defendant to commit the crime, or whether he was in fact a person who was ready to commit the crime with minimal inducement. And you may consider those prior convictions to assess the defense of entrapment.
The question then is whether prior convictions for unrelated offenses of a different nature than those charged in the indictment can be used to show criminal predisposition for the offense charged.
The State stresses that these three theft-related prior convictions over a four-year period were significant criminal violations for which defendant had been incarcerated each time and which demonstrated a predisposition to a criminal lifestyle consistent with selling drugs. Thus, says the State, these convictions were properly used to show a dishonest and criminal predisposition, even though not ...