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State v. Vasky

Decided: July 7, 1987.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RUDOLF VASKY, INADVERTENTLY CALLED RUDOLF BASKY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.

Antell, Brody and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.

Brody

The quantity and quality of evidence before a grand jury need not be much to support an indictment. The question in this appeal is whether there was enough in this case.

Defendant was indicted for third-degree burglary (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2) and third-degree theft (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(a) and N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2b(2)(a)). Investigation of the crimes began as the result of complaints from tenants living in a multifamily building in Newark that they were cold and without hot water because someone had removed the boiler and hot water heater. The indictment is based on evidence that defendant unlawfully entered the building and stole the fixtures.

The State presented its evidence at two grand jury hearings. Philip Tanala, manager of city-owned property, testified at the first hearing; Carmen Melendez, a tenant in the building, testified at the second. Tanala testified that the city had acquired the property from defendant as the result of a tax lien foreclosure before the tenants complained. He further testified that "tenants said that [defendant] in fact was the individual who came around and had taken [the fixtures] from the basement." When asked how much the fixtures were worth, Tanala replied, "Offhand I don't know." He testified, however, that a report from his "inspectors" contained a "ball park estimate" of over $1,000 "[a]s far as I recall it."

The assistant prosecutor was apparently not satisfied at the close of the first hearing that there was enough evidence to indict because he said to the members of the grand jury:

Now, one sticky point is that you have some evidence before you which is direct that is the fact that the things were missing. But, you also have hearsay with regard to the individual who took them. A jury, a Grand Jury can consider hearsay evidence and therefore I laid out to you, but also we could, if you want to, have the addresses of the people who did report this, who did see him take the things out. Now I tell you that because I think that's the better practice. I think you ought to do that. We'll lay it over until then.

At the second hearing, a week later, the assistant prosecutor did not present eyewitness testimony as he had promised. Instead, he presented the testimony of Carmen Melendez, a tenant who claimed to have spoken to an eyewitness. When asked whether defendant had taken "some stuff out of the basement of your building," she replied, "No, no, I do not know anything." She testified, however, that another tenant "said that she had seen [defendant] take the stuff out of the building and she also heard the noise when it was being loaded up onto the truck."

The assistant prosecutor thereupon gave some assurance to the members of the grand jury that they had enough evidence to indict:

Let's see how we are going to do this. The charge against [defendant] is burglary. All right.

Now, we know now [defendant] had no right to go into the place at all and, in fact, if he did go in you can also consider the charge of theft because there is some testimony as to a theft from the apartment building and the value of the thing that was taken would be somewhere in the area of over a thousand dollars and that would be a crime of the third degree, and a grand jury may consider hearsay evidence and you have enough direct evidence with regard to the crime and the fact that stuff was missing and you have enough information almost direct hearsay from the fact that Ms. Melendez had known what had gone on, so, you may consider this case based on her testimony and at some time in the future, ...


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