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State v. Taylor

November 9, 1972

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT B. TAYLOR, III, DEFENDANT



Huot, J.d.c.

Huot

This is a complaint charging defendant with violating N.J.S.A. 2A:170-29(2)(b).

On August 1, 1972, at about 2 P.M., defendant Robert B. Taylor, III was observed by police officers to be standing on Shaler Boulevard, Ridgefield, New Jersey and holding a yellow cardboard sign on which the words "RADAR AHEAD" were plainly visible. Upon these facts defendant was subsequently arrested and charged as a disorderly person in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170-29(2)(b). The pertinent section of that statute reads as follows:

2. Any person who in any place, public or private,

b. Obstructs, molests or interferes with any person lawfully therein; or

Is a disorderly person.

It is alleged that defendant, in the act of displaying the above-described sign, is a disorderly person in that he obstructed and interfered with the right of motorists who were driving on Shaler Boulevard at that time, and the right of the police officers to control, through the operation of radar equipment, the rate of speed of motorists driving on Shaler Boulevard. The issue to be resolved by this court, therefore, is whether or not the act of holding a sign stating "RADAR AHEAD," while standing in the field of vision of passing

motorists, should be construed as a disorderly act within the purview of the statutory language expressed in N.J.S.A. 2A:170-29(2)(b).

"Disorderly conduct" is not an offense known to common law. Convictions for acts constituting disorderly conduct must be for some offense prohibited by statute. State v. Labato , 7 N.J. 137 (1953); Breisia v. Court of Common Pleas, Hudson County , 11 N.J. Misc. 937, 169 A. 335 (Sup. Ct. 1933). Statutory offenses are characterized as being either mala in se or mala prohibita. An act is malum in se if it is inherently and essentially wrong and injurious. Those acts which do not fall within the category of mala in se but which are proscribed by the Legislature, such as the statute involved in the instant case, are mala prohobita: it is not the nature of the act that renders it wrong, but rather the fact that its commission is expressly forbidden by law. Since the illegality of a malum prohibitum act results from positive law, it becomes naturally incumbent upon the courts to construe the statute proscribing the act in conformance with legislative intent and to avoid those constructions which render any part of the statute superfluous. State v. Wean , 86 N.J. Super. 283 (App. Div. 1965); State v. Rullis , 79 N.J. Super. 221 (App. Div. 1963). Case law construing the Disorderly Persons Act has indeed been solicitous of the intent of the Legislature and supportive of the position that such intent is to be discerned from the language of the statute; hence the condemned act must be plainly and unmistakably within the penal statute and not within an arbitrary expansion of the scope of the statute. State v. Leonardo , 109 N.J. Super. 442 (App. Div. 1970); State v. Wenof , 102 N.J. Super. 370 (App. Div. 1968); State v. Smith , 46 N.J. 510 (1966); State v. Gibson , 92 N.J. Super. 397, 400 (App. Div. 1966); State v. Wean, supra, State v. Rullis, supra, State v. Caez , 81 N.J. Super. 315 (App. Div. 1963); Neeld v. Giroux , 24 N.J. 224, 229 (1952); Halsted v. State , 41 N.J.L. 552, 597 (E. & A. 1899).

With these precepts in mind, we now turn to an examination of the statute in question. It is indisputable that the protection of the statute does extend to police officers who were controlling the rate of speed of motorists on Shaler Boulevard. Cf. State v. Furino , 85 N.J. Super. 345 (App. Div. 1964). What is questionable is whether or not defendant, by the act of displaying the sign in question, did "obstruct" or "interfere" with these police officers and the motorists on Shaler Boulevard.

Black's Law Dictionary (4th ed. 1968) defines "obstruct" as to hinder or prevent from progress, check, stop, also to retard the progress of, or make accomplishment of difficult and slow; and the word "interfere" as to check, hamper, hinder, disturb, intervene, intermeddle, interpose, enter into, or take part in the concerns of others. "Molest" means to disturb, interfere with, or ...


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