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State v. Nolfi

New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division

April 8, 1976


Walsh, J.s.c., Temporarily Assigned.


[141 NJSuper Page 530]

This is a motion for leave to appeal to the Hudson County Court from an interlocutory order of the Union City Municipal Court denying defendant admission to the Hudson County Pretrial Intervention Program (hereinafter PTI), and is before this court pursuant to R. 3:24. Defendant, a New York resident, seeks to have the PTI policy of automatically excluding out-of-state residents declared unconstitutional, as it applies to him. Pursuant to the terms of R. 3:24, this court can simultaneously grant the motion and decide the appeal on the merits.

PTI*fn1 in Hudson County was developed and initiated in [141 NJSuper Page 531] late 1971, pursuant to R. 3:28.*fn2 The project was funded initially by grants from S.L.E.P.A. and the United States Department of Labor, and is under the authority of the Administrative

[141 NJSuper Page 532]

Office of the Courts. It was represented to the court at oral argument on this motion that the only funds presently available to support the program are county funds.

PTI is essentially a diversion mechanism, designed to process a defendant in a manner that will effectively deter criminal or penal behavior; that takes the defendant outside the traditional processes and leaves him without any criminal conviction. Of equal importance, it is also the stated purpose of PTI to assist in the relief of presently overburdened criminal calendars and to conserve the energies and resources of criminal justice agencies by removing defendants from trial calendars, as aforesaid, thereby permitting those agencies to concentrate on matters controllable only by traditional prosecution and sanctions.

There are many aspects to PTI, but we are concerned only with the "Selection Criteria", specifically, "Residence", cf. Proposal , at B-2.*fn3

[141 NJSuper Page 533]

New Jersey's PTI program is designed to deal with the problem of crime in New Jersey. Recognizing that because New Jersey is a "corridor state," residents of neighboring states frequently conduct criminal activity within its jurisdiction, residence should be a bar to admission only where a defendant resides such a distance from New Jersey as to bar effective counseling or supervisory procedures. Proposal at 71.

Defendant in this case is a resident of Brooklyn, New York, and is charged with a disorderly persons violation. At his initial appearance in municipal court defendant sought admission to PTI. He was never screened, but was automatically excluded solely because of the fact of his nonresidency. So far as this court is presently aware, defendant is, in all other respects, eligible for PTI, and would in fact be acceptable were he a New Jersey resident.

Defendant contends that his exclusion from the program based solely on his nonresident status is violative of his right to equal protection of the laws, under U.S. Const. , Amend. XIV, and is also violative of U.S. Const. , Art. IV, § 2, cl. 1

[141 NJSuper Page 534]

(Privileges and Immunities). Defendant also contends that a fundamental right is involved and hence a compelling state interest must be shown for defendant to be excluded from PTI based solely on nonresidency. Because of the disposition of his other contentions, this last issue of the defendant need not be decided on this motion.*fn4

In a memorandum from the PTI director to the court in connection with this matter it is admitted that "this class exclusion category does run counter to one of the basic principles of the State's PTI system: eligibility open to all motivated defendants regardless to [ sic ] charge or background with selections made with individual justifications * * *." (Emphasis in original).

The prosecutor argues that there is justification for the departure of the Hudson County PTI program from the aims and goals of the New Jersey state program. It is admitted that the Hudson PTI program is the model for the state PTI proposal, and both the state PTI proposal and the Hudson program are creatures of R. 3:28. The prosecutor contends, in effect, that despite those facts, the Hudson PTI program is free to follow its own path and set up its own criteria for admission because it was given R. 3:28 approval before the state PTI proposal was adopted. This argument overlooks the basic fact that R. 3:28 is the underlying authority

[141 NJSuper Page 535]

for the Hudson County PTI program, and the state PTI proposal was drawn to provide guidelines in implementing that rule. The rule and the proposal both originate from the Administrative Office of the Courts (an arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court) and are not to be lightly regarded. What the Hudson PTI program urges is that, because it was first in time, it is free to devise its own operating rules without regard to the state PTI proposal or, as the defendant argues on this motion, without regard to the United States Constitution.

The Hudson PTI program also cites an increased number of applications as a justification for certain automatic exclusionary categories. The resources of the program have remained constant and the prosecutor argues that, because the program must marshall its resources, it has a need to limit the number of eligible applicants. Defendant argues that, if a program cannot be sufficiently funded to enable it to operate in such a way as to pass United States constitutional muster, then it must be discontinued or, in the alternative, be properly funded to avoid United States constitutional infirmity.

The prosecutor also speaks of the lack of any national clearing center or statutory agreements with other states. The implication is that out-of-state participants must get their counseling from out-of-state agencies, because some of the agencies relied upon by the Hudson PTI program will not accept out-of-state applicants. The Hudson PTI program seeks to justify its own practices in reference to nonresidents by reliance on the practices of other agencies in this same regard. It was represented by defense counsel on argument of this motion that defendant is willing to come into New Jersey for whatever counseling may be deemed necessary if he is accepted.

Finally, the prosecutor points to extradition problems that could arise if an out-of-state applicant who is accepted into the Hudson County PTI fails to fulfill the program requirements, necessitating normal prosecution. This argument overlooks the fact that any extradition problem arises when bail

[141 NJSuper Page 536]

is set for a nonresident. The Hudson County PTI does nothing to exacerbate that situation which is a fact of legal life in criminal proceedings.

The Hudson PTI program offers further statistics that between March 1972 and December 1974, 36 out of 81 out-of-state applicants were rejected and 8 of those not rejected were terminated for lack of cooperation. These numbers do not impress the court as being significantly different from over-all statistics as to residents cited to this court during the argument of this motion. Also of note is that of the total number of nonresidents previously accepted there were, by the State's own empirical data, only three extradition problems.

The equal protection argument will be dealt with first by this court. The fact that PTI may be termed a privilege and not a right will not defeat an equal protection argument. Shapiro v. Thompson , 394 U.S. 618, 627, n. 6, 89 S. Ct. 1322, 22 L. Ed. 2d 600 (1969). The United States Supreme Court in that case held that classification based on residence must have a rational basis to withstand the requirements of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. The test to be applied is whether the challenged distinction rationally furthers some legitimate, articulated state purpose. Cf. McGinnis v. Royster , 410 U.S. 263, 270, 93 S. Ct. 1055, 35 L. Ed. 2d 282 (1973); State in Interest of K.V.N. , 116 N.J. Super. 580 (App. Div. 1971).

In the present case the effect of the residency requirement is to establish two classes, indistinguishable from each other, except that one is a group of residents and the other is a group of non-residents. Based on this lone distinction, admission to the Hudson County PTI is summarily denied. "When the law lays an unequal hand on those who have committed intrinsically the same quality of offense * * * it has made as an invidious a discrimination as if it had selected a particular [group] for oppressive treatment." Skinner v. Oklahoma , 316 U.S. 535, 541, 62 S. Ct. 1110, 1113, 86 L. Ed. 1655 (1942).

[141 NJSuper Page 537]

The articulated purposes of PTI are rehabilitation of defendants and the clearing of overcrowded court calendars. PTI is designed as a kind of "creaming" process, skimming out of the traditional criminal process those who are most susceptible to rehabilitation and putting them into this program. Defendant clearly falls within that group of offenders at whom the PTI program is aimed. To deny him admission to the Hudson County PTI as was done instanter , is clearly a denial of equal protection of the laws under U.S. Const. Amend. XIV.

We deal next with the Art. IV, § 2, cl. 1 (Privileges and Immunities) argument pressed by defendant herein. That clause of the United States Constitution insures to a citizen of State A who ventures into State B the same privileges which the citizens of State B enjoy. Its purpose is the outlawing of statutory classifications based upon the fact of noncitizenship, unless there is something to indicate that noncitizens constitute a peculiar source of evil at which the statute is aimed. Toomer v. Witsell , 334 U.S. 385, 68 S. Ct. 1156, 92 L. Ed. 1460 (1948), reh. den. 335 U.S. 837, 69 S. Ct. 12, 93 L. Ed. 389. Residents of a state are citizens of that state, of course, Gassies v. Ballon , 31 U.S. [6 Pet.] 761, 8 L. Ed. 573, 761, and merely because a statute is couched in terms of residence, it is not ipso facto outside the scope of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, which speaks of citizens. Toomer, supra. Any law of a state which broadly discriminates against all nonresidents and which seeks to create an alienage which, although based on residence in form, is based upon citizenship in meaning and effect, discriminates against United States citizens who are not citizens of the state and unconstitutionally violates their privileges and immunities. Black v. McClung , 172 U.S. 239, 19 S. Ct. 165, 43 L. Ed. 432 (1898), reh. 176 U.S. 59, 20 S. Ct. 307, 44 L. Ed. 371 (1900). Such is the case in this instance.

It has been held that if a state seeks to grant special privileges to its own citizens which are of such a nature as to fall

[141 NJSuper Page 538]

within the purview of the privileges and immunities covered by U.S. Const. , Art. IV, § 2, the constitutional provision will automatically secure to citizens of other states the special privileges so granted by the state to its own citizens. In re Johnson's Estate , 139 Cal. 532, 73 P. 424 (Sup. Ct. 1903); cf. also Duehay v. Acacia Mut. Life Ins. Co. , 70 U.S. App. D. C. 245, 105 F.2d 768 at 776 (D.C. Cir. 1939).

Johnson dealt with inheritance tax exemptions. The court noted that the provision was not restrictive, nor was it penal or destructive.

It seems, by implication, that a state may grant any privilege to its citizens that it sees fit, but those same rights, privileges and immunities are, by this clause, secured to all citizens of all other states when they come within the borders of that state. Thus, the Privileges and Immunities Clause becomes an express part of such laws and they need not so state in their terms.

In this case, the Hudson PTI grants to New Jersey residents charged with crimes in Hudson County the privilege of having the opportunity to escape the stigma of a criminal conviction. By operation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause the same opportunity must be given to a nonresident in the same situation, especially since the State has failed to show and this court is unable to discern a valid, substantial reason for the discrimination, beyond the mere fact that the defendant is a citizen of another state. Cf. Toomer, supra.

Based upon all of the foregoing this court finds that the denial of the application of defendant for admission to PTI solely because of his nonresidence violates his constitutional rights under U.S. Const. , Amend. XIV (Equal Protection of the Laws) and U.S. Const. , Art. IV, § 2, (Privileges and Immunities).

Accordingly this court further finds that automatic exclusion from PTI for nonresidence in this State is unreasonable and is hereby declared null and void.

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