Martin, R., J.d.c., Temporarily Assigned.
Defendant Joseph Di Luzio moves to suspend proceedings and to be placed under supervisory treatment pursuant to N.J.S.A. 24:21-27(a)(1). He is charged in Indictment 576-74 with unlawful possession of heroin, contrary to N.J.S.A. 24:21-20. In addition, defendant was charged in the Paterson Municipal Court with unlawful possession of marijuana under 25 grams and with unlawful possession of narcotics implements. All of these alleged violations occurred on January 12, 1974, and arose from the same transaction.
The State presents three arguments in opposition to the motion to suspend proceedings. It should be noted that since Chapter 21 of Title 24 was enacted in October 1970, N.J.S.A. 24:21-27 has remained largely unconstrued, so the points raised by the State in opposition to the motion to suspend are of initial consideration to the court.
In construing the suspension statute, the court is compelled to give primary regard to the essential purposes for which the particular legislation was enacted. N.J. Builders, Owners & Managers Ass'n v. Blair, 60 N.J. 330, 338 (1972); State v. Madden, 61 N.J. 377 (1972); Seatrain Lines, Inc. v. Medina, 39 N.J. 222 (1963). The words contained
in the statute must be given their ordinary and primary meaning in the absence of statutory definition of those words. Fahey v. Jersey City, 52 N.J. 103, 107 (1968); Watt v. Mayor, etc., Franklin, 21 N.J. 274 (1956). An inflexible, mechanical and literal construction would be inappropriate. Construction "must not be unduly narrow or artificial or disregard manifest legislative intention." State v. Rucker, 46 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div. 1957), certif. den. 25 N.J. 102 (1957). Rather, the statute must be construed according to the ordinary meaning of its terms in conjunction with the policy and spirit of the law as it is reflected in the events leading to its enactment and the substantive form in which it was enacted.
Initially, the State contends that defendant cannot avail himself of the benefits of the suspension statute since he has a prior narcotics disposition in June 1967 when he received a three-month suspended sentence for the use of narcotics in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170-8. It is argued that as a result of this prior disposition he cannot be considered a first offender within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 24:21-27. This objection is raised even though the Controlled Dangerous Substance Registry reports no prior record of controlled dangerous substance offenses.
N.J.S.A. 24:21-27(a) defines a first offender in the alternative as "any person who has not previously been convicted of any offense under the provisions of this act" or who has not been previously convicted "subsequent to the effective date of this act under any law of the United States, this State, or any other State relating to narcotic drugs * * *."
While not explicitly so stated in the statute, it is apparent from a reading of N.J.S.A. 24:21-27(a) that the phrase "[conviction] under any law of * * * this State * * * relating to narcotic drugs," would encompass a prior drug-related disorderly persons conviction and bar an application of the suspension statute.
However, the plain meaning of the language in subsection (a) mandates that first offender status is in part determined by searching out such convictions occurring "subsequent to the effective date of this act," January 19, 1971.*fn1 For the purpose of evaluating first offender status, this would exclude from consideration drug-related disorderly persons convictions occurring prior to the effective date of Title 24.
This construction of N.J.S.A. 24:21-27 is buttressed by the statutory treatment of criminal convictions bearing on the question of first offender status. The consideration of such convictions is limited to adjudications "under this act." Thus, criminal convictions occurring prior to the enactment of Title 24 cannot be considered in determining first offender status.
Consequently, each alternative portion of the statutory definition of first offender, read individually, and in conjunction with each other, reflects an intent on the part of the Legislature to establish the effective date of Title 24 as the ...