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State v. Monroe

Decided: June 17, 1959.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Burling, Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.


[30 NJ Page 162] A complaint was filed in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Bergen County under N.J.S.

2 A:100-2, charging the defendant with desertion and nonsupport of his wife and minor children in necessitous circumstances. At the time of arraignment thereon, Monroe was advised by the court that he was entitled to counsel, to a reasonable time within which to prepare his defense, to have the matter considered by the grand jury and, if an indictment was returned, to a trial by jury. He was told also that, if he wished, such proceedings could be waived and the matter disposed of at once. After receiving this information, he executed a written waiver. The cause was then heard and the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to 1 1/2 to 2 years in the State Prison.

On March 12, 1958 Monroe applied for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that the sentence was void because the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court had no jurisdiction to hear the criminal offense charged under N.J.S. 2 A:100-2. At that time he was also under a 3 to 5 year sentence for larceny, which term was to run consecutively with the one under attack. The writ was allowed and the Superior Court, Law Division, sustained the claim of lack of jurisdiction. As a consequence, an order was entered vacating the judgment of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and directing that the time served under that conviction be credited against the larceny sentence. The State applied directly to this court for certification and we granted it. 28 N.J. 37 (1958).

The issue presented here has been discussed in other cases but it has not actually been decided. State v. Bruneel, 14 N.J. 53 (1953); State v. Savastini, 14 N.J. 507 (1954).

N.J.S. 2 A:100-2 is a part of the Crimes Act. Violation thereof is declared to be a misdemeanor and punishable by "a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment for not more than 3 years, or both." N.J.S. 2 A:85-7. The offense is a criminal one and is manifestly within the constitutional protection against prosecution without grand jury indictment and trial by jury. New Jersey Constitution (1947), Article I, paragraphs 8, 9 and 10; N.J.S.

2 A:4-30.5; United States v. Moreland, 258 U.S. 433, 42 S. Ct. 368, 66 L. Ed. 700 (1922).

The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is a tribunal of statutory origin and its jurisdiction is limited to the matters confided to it by the Legislature. Accordingly, to sustain the conviction in the present case it must appear affirmatively that the offense is within the ambit of that court's delegated authority. Jurisdiction over a crime not within the boundaries cannot be conferred by consent of the persons involved -- as by waiver of indictment and trial by jury. State v. Bruneel, supra, 14 N.J. at page 58; In re Daniecki, 117 N.J. Eq. 527, 531 (Ch. 1935), affirmed 119 N.J. Eq. 359 (E. & A. 1936); Richardson v. State Board, etc., 98 N.J.L. 690, 693 (Sup. Ct. 1923), affirmed 99 N.J.L. 516 (E. & A. 1924). Thus, recourse to the creating enactment must be had for the answer to a particular problem.

N.J.S. 2 A:4-18 provides that the court "shall also have jurisdiction concurrently with such other courts as may have jurisdiction over the matter, to hear and determine in a summary manner disputes and complaints:

"* * *

c. Involving violations of subtitle 12 (disorderly persons law) of this title (§ 2 A: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." (Emphasis added.)

It is plain from this excerpt that jurisdiction over the crime of desertion and non-support of wife and minor children under N.J.S. 2A:100-2 is not conferred by express reference. But it is equally plain that such transgression may be described as an offense where the ...

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