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State v. Haskell

Decided: July 31, 1985.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES A. HASKELL AND MARK C. HASKELL, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On Appeal from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 195 N.J. Super. 235 (1984).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For reversal -- none. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, J.

Pollock

This appeal raises the question whether co-defendants who have given statements to the police implicating each other should receive separate trials. The trial court ordered a joint trial after determining that the statements "interlocked" and that limiting jury instructions would adequately protect the defendants. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded "for multiple trials or such other action as may be consistent with R. 3:15-2(a)." 195 N.J. Super. 235, 239 (1984). We affirm.

I

In the course of investigating the death of John Mastandrea, the Boonton Police obtained statements from the defendant brothers, James and Mark Haskell. As described by the Appellate Division, "[f]our statements were taken from defendant James Haskell, the last of which graphically describes how Mark Haskell killed the decedent. Mark gave five statements, the last of which admits the killing. The statements also depict James as at least an accessory after the fact." 195 N.J. Super. at 236. To this we add our observation that James' statement does not acknowledge his prior knowledge of Mark's alleged intent to kill the decedent or James' participation in the killing.

One week after giving those statements, the defendants were indicted for murder and possession of a weapon with intent to use it unlawfully in connection with the murder of Mastandrea. Because the State intends to offer each defendant's statement in evidence, the parties filed cross-motions to determine whether Rule 3:15-2 requires separate trials. In denying the defendants' motion for separate trials, the trial court concluded that the statements were "interlocking" within the meaning of Parker

v. Randolph, 442 U.S. 62, 99 S. Ct. 2132, 60 L. Ed. 2d 713 (1979). The Appellate Division reversed, holding that New Jersey case law and Rule 3:15-2(a) did not permit an exception for "interlocking confessions" to the requirement of separate trials.

II

At one time, both federal and New Jersey law permitted joint trials of co-defendants who had given separate confessions. Later, this Court and the United States Supreme Court independently determined that if references to a defendant could not effectively be deleted from a co-defendant's statement, the defendants should receive separate trials. More recently, in Parker v. Randolph, supra, 442 U.S. 62, 99 S. Ct. 2132, 60 L. Ed. 2d 713, the United States Supreme Court has taken a different approach when the confessions of multiple defendants "interlock." It was the trial court's adoption of that approach that led in the present case to the order for a joint trial.

The issue of the propriety of a joint trial of a defendant and a confessing co-defendant first arose in New Jersey in State v. Rios, 17 N.J. 572 (1955). In Rios, four men were convicted in a joint trial for the robbery-murder of a luncheonette owner. Before trial, two defendants moved for separate trials on the grounds that the admission in evidence of statements or confessions of their non-testifying co-defendants would be prejudicial. The trial court denied the motions, and charged the jury that the defendants' statements were admissible only against the declarant. On appeal, this Court held that the trial court had not abused its discretion under former Rule 3:5-7 in denying the defendants' motion. Id. at 585.

Two years later, in Delli-Paoli v. United States, 352 U.S. 232, 77 S. Ct. 294, 1 L. Ed. 2d 278 (1957), the United States Supreme Court reached a similar result. In Delli-Paoli, the Court ruled that a confession of one co-defendant after the termination of an alleged conspiracy was admissible in evidence

against another of the remaining defendants in a joint trial. Underlying the decision was the assumption that the jury was capable of following the instruction to disregard the evidence implicating a non-confessing co-defendant. Finding nothing in the record to suggest that the jury had disregarded the limiting instruction and that substantial evidence in the record supported the guilty ...


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