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State v. Nugent

Decided: November 26, 1973.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
BRUCE J. NUGENT AND ALLAN C. MORRILL, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Carton, Seidman and Goldmann.

Per Curiam

[125 NJSuper Page 530] Defendants appeal their conviction for possession of narcotic drugs (marijuana and hashish) after a

non-jury trial. They had been indicted on December 21, 1970 for violating N.J.S.A. 24:18-4, part of the then Uniform Narcotic Drug Law. That act was repealed on October 19, 1970 by the Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, N.J.S.A. 24:21-1 et seq., effective January 17, 1971. The trial and conviction came late in 1972.

Defendants unsuccessfully moved before trial to suppress the evidence on the ground of unreasonable search and seizure. They also moved for dismissal of the indictment, challenging the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 24:18-4. This motion, too, was denied, and we denied leave to appeal from that ruling.

Following the trial, each defendant was sentenced to three months in the county jail, sentence being suspended, and ordered to pay a $250 fine. They filed timely notice of appeal.

The brief presented on defendants' behalf and which projects the four points about to be discussed is largely devoted to the pharmacological, physiological and sociological aspects of marijuana. However commendable, the presentation does not convince us that a reversal is in order.

Defendants first claim that the Uniform Narcotic Drug Law under which they were prosecuted violates N.J. Const. (1947), Art. IV, ยง VII, par. 4, which provides, in part, that

To avoid improper influences which may result from intermixing in one and the same act such things as have no proper relation to each other, every law shall embrace but one object, and that shall be expressed in the title. * * *

They characterize the title as misleading or deceptive, confusing the public concerning "the true relationship between marijuana and narcotic drugs." They assert that a constitutionally proscribed mixing occurred in that marijuana was classed as a narcotic. Their contention is that their motion to dismiss the indictment should therefore have been granted and that their convictions must be set aside as constitutionally improper.

The State is correct when it states that in order for a law to conform to the requirement that its title so express its object as not to be misleading, it is of paramount importance to determine whether the legislators and the public at large were given notice of the subject area with which the legislation deals. See Bucino v. Malone, 12 N.J. 330, 343 (1953). Mere generality or comprehensiveness of a title will not render a statute ineffectual. Courts will give liberal treatment to a title so as to validate the law to which it appertains, whenever such course is reasonably practical. Public Service Electric and Gas Co. v. Camden, 118 N.J.L. 245, 250-251 (Sup. Ct. 1937).

The title of the Uniform Drug Law reads, "An act defining and relating to narcotic drugs, making uniform the law with relation thereto, and providing penalties for violations thereof." Marijuana is included as a narcotic drug in the definition section of the act, N.J.S.A. 24:18-2. What defendants argue is that marijuana is not properly classifiable as a narcotic, and this leads them into an exposition of the pharmacology of the matter. The question, however, is strictly a legal one. The 1933 Legislature, following the lead of the commissioners on uniform state laws, believed that marijuana was properly includable among narcotic substances.

A second argument advanced by defendants is that the former act under which they were convicted violates their right to equal protection of the law. It discriminates, they say, against those who possess marijuana, for there are substances far more harmful, or equally ...


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