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State v. Vaughn

Decided: February 26, 1965.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LEROY VAUGHN AND CARMEN VAUGHN, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



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

Schettino

[44 NJ Page 144] Defendants were convicted in the Englewood Municipal Court as disorderly persons under N.J.S.A. 18:14-39 for failing to cause their child regularly to attend the public schools of the district in violation of N.J.S.A. 18:14-14. Defendants appealed to the Bergen County Court, which dismissed the appeal on the ground that defendants had failed to comply with R.R. 3:10-10(a) pertaining to failure to serve the prosecutor's office with a copy of the transcript of the recorded municipal court proceedings within 10 days after the filing of the notice of appeal. An appeal was then taken to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. The Appellate Division, finding that defendants' appeal should not

have been dismissed for failure to observe strictly the requirements of R.R. 3:10-10(a), reversed and remanded the matter for a trial de novo in the County Court. In so doing, the Appellate Division went on to direct the State to amend the complaint to reflect the language of the applicable statute, N.J.S.A. 18:14-14, namely, the State must allege that defendants failed to cause their child regularly to attend the public schools of the district or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school. Plaintiff's petition for certification which we granted, 42 N.J. 145 (1964), was limited to the question of whether the State must prove the latter two alternative provisions introduced by the word "or."

The education of a child has always been of supreme importance and an ideal which has long been required in our State. New Jersey Constitution, Article IV, § 7, par. 6 (1844); Everson v. Board of Education, Ewing Twp., 133 N.J.L. 350, 355 (E. & A. 1945); affirmed 330 U.S. 1, 67 S. Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711 (1946). The State under the mandates of the New Jersey Constitution, Article VIII, § 4, par. 1 (1947),*fn1 has undertaken the duty of satisfying this goal by providing for the public education of every child within this State. N.J.S.A. 18:14-1 et seq. But the primary burden of making certain that the child receives a public education has been cast upon the parent or other person in custody and control of the child.

N.J.S.A. 18:14-14 provides in part, that:

"Every parent, guardian or other person having custody and control of a child between the ages of 7 and 16 years shall cause such child regularly to attend the public schools of the district or a day

school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school." (Emphasis added)

Although this section states what is expected of every such parent, guardian, or person having custody and control of a child, it does not itself provide that a violation shall result in penal liability, nor does it provide precisely what failure shall be the essence of a penal offense. It is N.J.S.A. 18:14-39 which provides generally for liability for failure to comply with any of the provisions of the article including, of course, the provisions of N.J.S.A. 18:14-14. This encompassing penal provision reads as follows:

"A parent, guardian or other person having charge and control of a child between the ages of seven and sixteen years, who shall fail to comply with any of the provisions of this article relating to his duties shall be deemed to be a disorderly person * * *."

The problem before us is one of construction, to determine the interplay of these two sections. As in all other cases of judicial interpretation, the cardinal rule is that we should find a sensible, workable view of legislation if the language at all permits that result.

The primary requirement of N.J.S.A. 18:14-14 is that the parent, guardian, or other person with custody shall cause the child regularly to attend the public school. The State of course is in position to prove whether the child is or is not in such regular attendance. However, with respect to the optional alternatives of sending the child to a day school or causing the child to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school, it is obvious that if the burden of proving a violation of either of the two alternatives rests upon the State, it would be saddled with a fairly impossible task, for it would be obligated to prove a negative proposition in circumstances in which the area ...


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