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State v. Hutchins

Decided: May 24, 1990.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
BERNARD HUTCHINS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County.

Michels, Deighan and R.s. Cohen. The opinion of the court was delivered by Deighan, J.A.D.

Deighan

Defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree armed robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (Count One); third-degree possession of a handgun without a permit, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (Count Two), and second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Count Three). The trial judge merged Count Two into Count Three and sentenced defendant on the first count to a term of 15 years with five years parole ineligibility and to a concurrent seven-year term with three years parole ineligibility on Count Three. A $60 Violent Crimes Compensation Board penalty was also imposed.

The following facts were developed at trial. On May 1, 1986, at approximately 2:45 p.m., Camille Williams and her sister Denise Shannon were walking down Seventeenth Street by West Side Park in Newark. Williams and Shannon were returning to Williams' home from a check-cashing establishment located on Springfield Avenue. Having cashed a Social Security check and obtaining her mother's food stamps, Williams was carrying approximately $271 in cash and $250 worth of food stamps. Additionally, Ms. Williams was also carrying over $100 in cash from her work as a hair stylist.

As the sisters were walking along Seventeenth Street, a man, later identified as defendant, wearing a black jogging suit with "turbo boost" on one shoulder of the top, approached them and asked Williams if she had a cigarette. After Williams replied "no," defendant continued walking. Defendant then pushed Shannon away and shoved Williams up against a chain link fence. He took from his waist a silver handgun with black taping around the handle, aimed it at Williams' neck and told her to "give it up." Ms. Williams put her hands in the air. Defendant searched her clothing, and removed her identification, all of the cash, and her mother's food stamps. He told Williams to run but when she refused, defendant ran away. Williams then telephoned police.

The next day, Williams and her sister went to the police station to look at an array of photographs of possible perpetrators. After looking through approximately ten books of mug shots, Williams identified defendant as the robber. After Williams had picked out defendant's photo, she showed that page of photos to her sister who also picked out defendant's photo.

Defendant then testified on his own behalf. He denied any knowledge of the robbery in question. He claimed that he did not rob Williams and that he never saw her before. During defendant's cross-examination, the trial judge allowed, over objection, questioning regarding defendant's 1986 arrest for possession of a handgun and permitted a rebuttal witness to testify concerning the prior arrest for purposes of affecting Hutchins' credibility.

While cross-examining defendant, after inquiring about both the defendant's prior CDS conviction and the date of the arrest in the instant case, the assistant prosecutor asked defendant,

Q. Tell me, do you know anything about guns?

A. No, never had one, no.

Q. You never had a gun?

A. No.

The assistant prosecutor then asked:

Q. February 1986, you weren't arrested with a ...


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