On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County.
Michels, McElroy and J. H. Coleman. The opinion of the court was delivered by McElroy, J.A.D.
Defendants Fiumara, Coppolla and Ricci were convicted of federal crimes and were, respectively, incarcerated in federal correctional institutions at Leavenworth, Kansas; Ashland, Kentucky and Danbury, Connecticut. Fiumara is serving 25 years. Coppolla has a 13-year sentence and Ricci was sentenced to a three-year term. Pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-1 to 15 (agreement), they were brought to this State to answer an indictment returned by the state grand jury charging them with conspiracy to violate this State's antitrust act, N.J.S.A. 56:9-3. and were housed in the State Prison at Trenton. The decision to so house them appears to have been made by the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
Defendants moved before the trial court for an order transferring them from State Prison to the Somerset County Jail while awaiting trial. The State and the Somerset County Sheriff opposed this motion. The court interpreted Article V of the agreement (N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-5(d)) as requiring the State to place defendants in the Somerset County Jail or any other county correctional institution selected by the State but located within one hour's travel time from the Somerset County Courthouse where the trial of the New Jersey indictment would be held.
The State sought leave to appeal to this court and a stay of the order entered in the Law Division. We granted leave to appeal and a stay conditioned upon the right of counsel for defendants, on 24 hours' notice, to have reasonable access for
consultation and preparation of a defense with their respective clients and, in view of the conspiracy charges, the same degree of access to the other detainees imprisoned on the pending indictment.
The matter requires interpretation of N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-5(d) which, in pertinent part, provides:
Except for his attendance at court and while being transported to or from any place at which his presence may be required, the prisoner shall be held in a suitable jail or other facility regularly used for persons awaiting prosecution.
The issue is one of first impression. Neither our research nor that of the parties has found that any court of the signatory governments has dealt with this section.
Defendants contend, and the trial judge, in an oral bench decision, agreed that this section mandates that defendants be housed at a county correctional institution. The judge reasoned that the words of the section "are clear and unambiguous and plainly require that defendants brought into the state pursuant to the detainers be held in a facility regularly used for persons awaiting prosecution." He further reasoned that Trenton State Prison is utilized for the housing of convicts sentenced to a term of imprisonment for a term of one year or more, citing N.J.S.A. 30:4-136 and N.J.S.A. 2C:43-10(c). The judge concluded that the State had failed to show "that the Trenton State prison is a facility regularly used for the confinement of persons awaiting prosecution."
On our view of the matter this was too literal an interpretation of the wording used in N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-5(d). The applicable principles of construction are stated in N.J. Builders, etc., Ass'n v. Blair , 60 N.J. 330 (1972):
In reading and interpreting a statute, primary regard must be given to the fundamental purpose for which the legislation was enacted. Where a literal rendering will lead to a result not in accord with the essential purpose and design of the act, the spirit of the ...