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State v. Halleran

Decided: November 30, 1981.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MARGARET HALLERAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Michels, McElroy and J. H. Coleman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.

Michels

Defendant Margaret Halleran was convicted in the Municipal Court of the Borough of Freehold of petty disorderly conduct in making anonymous telephone calls at extremely inconvenient hours to Paul Ferguson -- her former husband -- for the purpose of harassing him, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a). She was fined $50 and sentenced to the Monmouth County Jail for 15 days, which sentence was suspended upon the condition that she refrain from making any anonymous telephone calls, as proscribed by the said statute, in the future. She appealed to the Law Division where, after a trial de novo on the record below, she was again found guilty and the same sentence was imposed.

According to the State's proofs, which are essentially uncontroverted, during the period from January 2, 1980 to February 28, 1980 Ferguson received approximately 28 telephone calls in the early hours of the morning at his home in Freehold, New Jersey. The calls were received between about 3:30 a.m. and about 4:45 a.m. Ferguson testified that he never had any conversation with the individual making these calls. Rather, the caller merely waited until he answered the telephone and then the caller either hung up or simply breathed into the telephone.

Ferguson contacted the Anonymous Call Bureau of New Jersey Bell Telephone Company (telephone company) requesting that the calls be traced. The telephone company utilized telephone tracing equipment attached to the Ferguson's telephone line which indicated that the calls originated from a telephone in defendant's home located in Colts Neck, New Jersey. A representative of the telephone company described the method of operation of the tracing equipment and testified that during the period when the telephone trace was set, six calls between the hours of 3:39 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. were made from the telephone assigned to defendant to the number assigned to Ferguson. These recorded calls corresponded with the annoyance calls reported by Ferguson to the company.

The proofs also showed that there were only two people living in the home from which the annoyance calls originated: defendant and her 11-year-old daughter, who was a product of defendant's marriage to Ferguson. According to Ferguson, his daughter did not know his telephone number, and while he called her she never called him.

The trial judge found that defendant had made the telephone calls and that these calls were made by her in the early hours of the morning to harass her ex-husband. In finding defendant guilty of the petty disorderly person offense, the trial judge specifically found that defendant's 11-year-old daughter did not make the calls. Defendant appealed.

Jurisdiction

Defendant first contends that the Municipal Court of the Borough of Freehold lacked jurisdiction over this matter because the offense was not committed within the territorial jurisdiction of that court. Defendant argues that the offense was committed in Colts Neck where the calls originated and not Freehold where the calls were received.

Jurisdiction over the subject matter is the power of the court to hear and determine cases of the class to which the proceedings in question belongs. The power of the court to deal with the subject matter of any given action rests solely in its having been clothed with such power by either the Constitution or statutory grant. State v. Osborn , 32 N.J. 117, 122 (1960); Abbott v. Beth Israel Cem. Ass'n of Woodbridge , 13 N.J. 528, 537 (1953); Petersen v. Falzarano , 6 N.J. 447, 454 (1951). Our Legislature conferred upon each municipal court and the judges thereof jurisdiction over petty disorderly person offenses set forth in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (Code) which occur within the territorial jurisdiction of the court (N.J.S.A. 2A:8-21(d)), and defined the territorial jurisdiction of each such municipal court to be the territory embraced within such municipality. N.J.S.A. 2A:8-20.

The petty disorderly person offense with which defendant was charged is described in N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 (L. 1978, c. 95, ยง ...


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