On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Burlington County.
Antell, Dreier and Skillman, JJ. The opinion of the court was delivered by Antell, P.J.A.D.
[263 NJSuper Page 603] Defendant was convicted after a jury trial of cocaine distribution within 1000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, cocaine distribution, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1), and possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). The latter two convictions were merged into the conviction for distribution within 1000 feet of school property, and defendant was sentenced to a three-year term of imprisonment without parole eligibility, ordered to pay a $1000 Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction penalty, a $50 laboratory fee, and a $30 penalty to the Violent Crimes
Compensation Board. His driving privileges were also forfeited for a period of six months.
According to the evidence, defendant had been identified by undercover officer Grant as the seller from whom he had purchased, for $20, a bag containing a quarter gram of cocaine. The alleged transaction took place on a street corner within 1000 feet of a school. After verifying that the substance was cocaine, the undercover officer radioed defendant's description and location so that a backup unit could later identify him as the seller. Defendant was arrested approximately a month after the sale.
The defense to the prosecution was that the State's case against defendant was manufactured by the police because one of the arresting officers, Lieutenant Hansen, had a grievance against defendant. Thus, the proceedings focused on the issue of credibility and on defendant's contention that Lieutenant Hansen had a motive to lie in his identification testimony. To enhance the credibility of its witnesses, in response to this defense, the prosecution pursued a pattern of questions and comments which are the primary subject of this appeal. Among the State's objectives was to communicate the thought that the case was not important enough to provoke the officers into giving false testimony. After a brief colloquy concerning the prosecutor's proposed redirect examination of Investigator Grant to demonstrate that the witness understood the penalties for perjury, the prosecutor asserted:
I just want to ask him if he understands the penalties for perjury and if that's worth a conviction on a $20.00 bag. That's my point, Judge.
The court allowed the prosecutor to pursue the matter and the following questions and answers ensued:
Q. Are you aware of the -- what the penalties are or that perjury is a serious offense in the State of New Jersey?
Q. And is your career and the penalties that you would sustain for perjuring yourself worth the conviction for a $20.00 bag of cocaine?