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State v. Besson

Decided: May 27, 1970.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
VICTOR BESSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Stamler, N.f., J.c.c.

Stamler

[110 NJSuper Page 531] Defendant appeals to this court pursuant to R. 3:23-2 from the judgment of the Municipal Court of Roselle finding him guilty on two charges: (1) interfering with a school assembly contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:170-28, and (2) trespass of school property, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:170-31.

On the first charge defendant was sentenced to the Union County jail for a period of three months, such sentence being suspended and defendant placed on probation for a period of one year. On the second charge there was suspension of any fine that might have been imposed.

For the purposes of this opinion, the foregoing charges will be considered separately.

I

The facts with reference to the interference charge indicate that on January 14, 1970 defendant, a teacher on the faculty of the Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, was present at an assembly program to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. Previous to this date the board of education had denied a request to hang a particular mural in the high school. The nature of this mural, or the considerations leading to its rejection by the board, were not part of the record before this court. But during the course of the school assembly, immediately after the first guest, Father Salemi, had finished speaking, defendant suddenly stood up near the front of the auditorium and spoke several words to the effect of, "I'm leaving the building and won't return until the mural is hung." Defendant then walked to the rear and left the auditorium.

The effect that this outburst had on the assembly program is in sharp dispute. Witnesses for defendant, including one teacher, the mistress of ceremonies and other students testified that defendant spoke in a slow and deliberate manner; that there was some brief applause after he spoke, and that several students followed him out. There was no further disruption of the assembly.

In contrast, the three teachers who were witnesses for the State testified that defendant spoke loud enough for everyone in the auditorium to hear him; that as he left he made a motioning gesture with his hand, at which point a large number of students left the auditorium. One such

witness stated that several hundred students actually followed defendant out of the assembly. It is not disputed that the program did continue, and that a second assembly program was conducted without incident.

Defendant contends that his remarks were spontaneous and were uttered on the spur of the moment as a result of Father Salemi's talk. He urges that his remarks did not constitute such "noisy or disorderly conduct" as is contemplated by the statute. Further, he claims the statute is unconstitutional as violating defendant's First Amendment rights of free speech, if applied to convict him under the facts and circumstances herein. In support of this contention defendant argues that the statute is void for vagueness and being overly broad, in its lack of definite standards of enforcement.

N.J.S.A. 2A:170-28 provides as follows:

Any person who by noisy or disorderly conduct disturbs or interferes with the quiet or good order of any place of assembly, public or private, including schools, churches, libraries and reading rooms, is a disorderly person.

This court is convinced that defendant's conduct on January 14, 1970 resulted in the disturbance and interference with the quiet and good order of the school assembly. The record reveals that defendant had given a great deal of thought to the actions of the board of education in prohibiting the display of the mural; he had discussed this with others including his students. In short, this court finds that defendant's statements were not as spontaneous as he would have the court believe. Defendant is an experienced teacher, and as an intelligent person he must have known that the natural consequences of his actions would result in the disruption of the school program.

In State v. Smith , 46 N.J. 510 (1966), cert. den. 385 U.S. 838, 87 S. Ct. 85, 17 L. Ed. 2d 71 (1966), defendant was arrested and charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2A:170-28 when he disrupted a city council meeting. The defendant had been ...


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