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State v. Frost

Decided: May 1, 1967.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN F. FROST, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Conford, Foley and Leonard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Leonard, J.A.D.

Leonard

Defendant appeals by leave of court from an order of the Superior Court, Law Division, denying his motion to dismiss an indictment. The indictment recites that defendant, while in the custody of a municipal police officer by reason of a lawful arrest upon a charge of being a disorderly person, in violation of N.J.S. 2A:170-1, broke away by force and escaped from custody in contravention of N.J.S. 2A:104-6. That latter statute provides:

"Any person imprisoned or detained in a place of confinement, or being in the lawful custody or control of a penal or correctional institution or of an officer or other person, upon any charge, indictment, conviction or sentence for any crime, or upon any writ or process in a civil action or proceeding, or to await extradition, who by force or fraud escapes or attempts to escape from such place of confinement or from such custody or control, or leaves the building or grounds of his place of confinement without the consent of the officer in charge, is guilty of a misdemeanor." (Emphasis added)

Defendant contends that a disorderly persons offense is not a "crime" within the meaning of that word as used in the above quoted statute and therefore the indictment does not allege any violation of that statute. This contention is founded upon the argument that this criminal statute must be strictly construed, and that when all of the pertinent sections of chapter 104 of Title 2A of the New Jersey Statutes, including Section 6, and their statutory antecedents, are read together, there appears a clear legislative intent to restrict the meaning of the word "crime" in N.J.S. 2A:104-6 to an indictable offense.

Although, generally speaking, penal statutes are to be strictly construed, State v. Meinken, 10 N.J. 348 (1952), the rule of strict construction does not mean that the manifestations of the Legislature's intention for criminal responsibility should be disregarded. State v. Edwards, 28 N.J. 292, 298 (1958), State v. Rucker, 46 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div. 1957), certif. denied 25 N.J. 102 (1957). In construing allegedly ambiguous sections of any statute,

a reasonable interpretation should be made based on the legislative purpose as revealed by the composite thrust of the whole statutory scheme and in the light of its legislative history. State v. Congdon, 76 N.J. Super. 493, 500 (App. Div. 1962).

With these principles in mind we consider first the history of N.J.S. 2A:104-6. The first comprehensive legislative enactment treating with "escapes" and "rescues" was sections 6 to 13, inclusive, of chapter 235 of the Laws of 1898. Section 12 thereof (L. 1898, c. 235, § 12, p. 796) provided that any person who, being "imprisoned for any crime," broke prison whether successfully escaping or not, was guilty of a misdemeanor.

In 1920 (L. 1920, c. 272, § 1), section 12 was amended to read as follows:

"Any person who, being imprisoned for any crime, or in the custody or control of the sheriff, having been indicted for or convicted of any offense, or sentenced to imprisonment on such conviction, or committed or detained in such jail on any criminal charge, * * * shall break prison and escape, or escape from the custody and control of the sheriff, or shall break prison, although no escape be actually made, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." (Emphasis added)

Section 12 was again amended (L. 1931, c. 94, § 1). This amendment retained the same operative language as the prior version but extended the places of confinement to include "any jail, prison, prison farm, reformatory or other correctional or penal institution" and further extended the coverage of an escape from the custody and control of the sheriff to include an escape from any "other officer."

In 1934 (L. 1934, c. 227, § 5) this section was again amended to substantially its present form (N.J.S. 2A:104-6) and included therein for the first time a person imprisoned or detained in a place of confinement or in custody of an officer upon " any charge, indictment, conviction or sentence for any crime, or upon ...


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