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State v. Fearick

Decided: January 31, 1975.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT FEARICK, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Carton, Crane and Kole.

Per Curiam

Defendant pleaded guilty to a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-40 in that he operated a motor vehicle while his driver's license was suspended. The municipal court judge sentenced the defendant to 45 days in the county correctional center and imposed a $200 fine plus costs.

The parties have stipulated that prior to the time of his arrest defendant's license had been indefinitely suspended because he was suffering from a convulsive disorder as the result of a head injury; that he was driving a motor vehicle which was struck by another vehicle driven in the opposite direction. It was further stipulated that injuries resulted to several people and that the accident was not the fault of or caused by defendant.

On appeal the County Court imposed the same fine of $200 plus costs but vacated the custodial sentence.

The State appeals, contending that the imposition of a custodial sentence is mandatory under the statute and that

to the extent that the judgment of the County Court omits a custodial term it is illegal.

The statute, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40, in its pertinent parts provides as follows:

No person * * * whose driver's license or reciprocity privilege has been suspended * * * shall personally operate a motor vehicle during the period of * * * suspension * * *.

A person violating any provision of this section shall be fined not less than $200.00 nor more than $1000.00, or be imprisoned in the county jail for not more than 6 months, or both, provided, that if while operating a vehicle in violation of this section, such person is involved in an accident resulting in personal injury, the punishment shall include imprisonment for not less than 45 days.

Defendant contends that the Legislature did not intend that a custodial sentence should be imposed where the operator whose license has been suspended did not cause the accident in which persons were injured. It is further contended that if the statute is construed to apply to a situation where the operator is not at fault, it is unconstitutional because it provides for cruel and unusual punishment and denies due process and equal protection of the laws.

We find no merit in any of defendant's contentions. In construing statutes we are required to accord statutory language its generally accepted meaning. N.J.S.A. 1:1-1. We are not permitted to resort to a forced construction for the purpose of limiting the plain meaning of the statutory language. Markey v. Bayonne, 24 N.J. Super. 105, 114 (App. Div. 1952). We have no hesitation in holding that the phrase, "involved in an accident," was not intended to be limited to those situations in which the driver caused the accident. See Lykens v. American Cast Iron Pipe Co., 295 F. Supp. 895, 896 (D.C.W.D. Pa. 1969). Cf. ...


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