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State v. Bruneel

December 7, 1953

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, ON COMPLAINT OF VIOLET BRUNEEL, COMPLAINANT-RESPONDENT,
v.
ROBERT BRUNEEL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Bergen County, certified to this court of its own motion.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by William J. Brennan, Jr., J.

Brennan

[14 NJ Page 55] The defendant husband appeals from an order of the Bergen County Juvenile and

Domestic Relations Court adjudging him guilty "as charged" under his wife's complaint that he "willfully refuses and neglects to support" her and their minor child "contrary to the provisions of Title 2A, Chapter 100-2." While the appeal was before the Appellate Division we ordered certification on our own motion.

Under N.J.S. 2 A:100-2, which originated in L. 1917, c. 61, p. 110, New Jersey's version of the Uniform Desertion and Nonsupport Act, 10 U.L.A.,

"Any husband who deserts or willfully neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of his wife, in destitute or necessitous circumstances, or a parent who deserts or willfully neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of his or her minor child or children, in destitute or necessitous circumstances, is guilty of a misdemeanor."

Upon conviction sentence, under the predecessor statute, R.S. 2:121-2, was limited to a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. These limitations were deleted when the present statute was enacted as part of the legislative revision of Title 2, L. 1951, c. 344, First Spec. Sess. The convicted accused may now be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned up to three years under N.J.S. 2 A:85-7 applicable to misdemeanors "for which no punishment is specifically provided," except that under N.J.S. 2 A:100-4 (as was also true under the former law, R.S. 2:121-4) the court, "instead of imposing the penalty provided for by section 2 A:100-2," "or in addition thereto," "having regard to the circumstances and to the financial ability or earning capacity of the defendant, may make an order, which shall be subject to change by the court from time to time as circumstances may require, directing the defendant to pay a sum certain periodically to the wife, or to the guardian or custodian of the minor child or children, or to an organization or individual approved by the court as trustee," and the court "may release the defendant from custody on probation, upon his or her entering into a recognizance, with or without surety, in such sum as the court may order and approve."

The first question argued is whether the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court has jurisdiction to hear and determine complaints of alleged violations of N.J.S. 2 A:100-2. That court is vested with jurisdiction by N.J.S. 2 A:4-18 to hear and determine "in a summary manner" disputes and complaints specified in subparagraphs (a) to (f) of N.J.S. 2 A:4-18, including, under subparagraph (c), disputes and complaints

"Involving violations of subtitle 12 (disorderly persons law) of this title (§ 2A:169-1 et seq.), and chapter 1 of Title 44, Poor (§ 44:1-1 et seq.), chapter 6 and chapter 17 of Title 9, Children (§ 9:6-1 et seq., and § 9:17-1 et seq.), and article 4 of chapter 5 of Title 30, Institutions and Agencies (§ 30:5-33 et seq.), of the Revised Statutes, together with any other laws or future enactments covering similar complaints or offenses, where the gravamen of the complaint under such laws or enactments is the failure or neglect of 1 member of the family to satisfy or discharge his legal obligations to another member of the family."

N.J.S. 2 A:100-2 not being one of the specified statutes, the question is whether it is a law embraced within the emphasized clause. That it is a law the "gravamen of the complaint under" which "is the failure or neglect of one member of the family to satisfy or discharge his legal obligations to another member of the family" is clear. The denounced offense does not require the concurrence of desertion and nonsupport. The crime is committed if the accused deserts the dependent, in destitute or necessitous circumstances, or, without regard to desertion, if the accused willfully neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of the dependent, in destitute or necessitous circumstances. O'Brien v. State, 90 Tex. Cr. R. 276, 234 S.W. 668 (Ct. Cr. App. 1921); Spicer v. State, 78 Tex. Cr. R. 57, 179 S.W. 712 (Ct. Cr. App. 1915). The husband argues, however, that only laws under which an ingredient is desertion of the dependent in the sense of leaving the dependent without means of support and therefore likely to become a public charge fall within the emphasized clause, citing Van Keegan v. Juvenile, &c., Court, 132 N.J.L. 21 (Sup. Ct. 1944), Boger v. Zimmerman, 132 N.J.L. 282

(Sup. Ct. 1944), and Warner v. Gloucester County Ct. of Domestic Relations, 131 N.J.L. 455 (Sup. Ct. 1944). But this argument overlooks the changes made by L. 1946, p. 268, and L. 1950, p. 1117, amending R.S. 9:18-14, the source of N.J.S. 2 A:4-18, which introduced the italicized language in substitution for the earlier wording construed in the cited decisions, namely, "where the gravamen of the complaint is the failure to provide support or adequate support, or desertion," and substantially enlarged the ...


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