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State v. Combariati

Decided: June 4, 1982.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT COMBARIATI, DEFENDANT



Minuskin, J.s.c.

Minuskin

The sixth count of the indictment under which defendant was brought to trial charged him with theft, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 a, of the controlled dangerous substance ("C.D.S.") Tranxene. These prescription pills were contained in the purse which defendant allegedly snatched from the victim. The court set forth in its charge to the jury the elements under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 a necessary to convict defendant of theft on this specific count.

During its deliberations the jury asked the question, and thereby raised the issue, of whether it was necessary for defendant to have had prior knowledge that the pills were in the purse he stole in order to be convicted of theft of the Tranxene pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 a.

Defendant asserts that an individual cannot have the required state of mind to be criminally liable for the theft of property unless he has knowledge of the specific nature of that property. Moreover, he argues that a contrary conclusion of law would leave the way open to fraudulent allegations of fact. Defendant hypothesizes that a woman could falsely claim for purposes of insurance reimbursement that she had diamonds in her purse and thereby subject a defendant to a greater criminal exposure under our Code of Criminal Justice.

The State argues that defendant need not have known the specific content of the purse at the time he took the purse to be charged with theft of Tranxene. Rather, the specific nature and value of the property stolen, which the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, are relevant only to the grading of an offense committed under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 a. The court agrees.

At common law larceny is defined as the "felonious taking and carrying away of the personal goods of another." 4 Bl. Com'n. 229, . And this animo furundi -- that is, with the intent to steal. Ibid. 232. See, also, Gardner v. State, 55 N.J.L. 17." Downs v. N.J. Fidelity & Plate Glass Ins. Co., 91 N.J.L. 523, 525 (E. & A.1917). N.J.S.A. 2A:119-2 embodied though embellished this common law definition.*fn1 The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice has in turn revised and consolidated all theft offenses under N.J.S.A. 2A:119-1 et seq. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2 a.

Our Supreme Court has stated that the court "will not attribute to the Legislature an intent to depart from the common law unless the intent is unmistakable." Union Beach Bd. of Ed. v. N.J.E.A., 53 N.J. 29, 46 (1968). The intent of the Legislature is clear, as is provided in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-5 a:

Common law crimes are abolished and no conduct constitutes an offense unless the offense is defined by this code or another statute of the State. [Emphasis supplied]

Accordingly, not only is the common law crime of larceny abrogated but the presumption that exists "against legislative intent to effect change in substance by revision of general laws. [ e.g., N.J.S.A. 2A:1-1 et seq ]" is thereby rebutted. Hartman v. Brigantine, 42 N.J. Super. 247, 255 (App.Div.1956); Bruning v. Peralex of N.J. Inc., 76 N.J. Super. 184, 187 (Ch.Div.1962).

Statutory construction of the Code reveals, however, that though expressly abrogating the letter of prior law, the Legislature has intended to carry forward the essence of larceny as defined at common law and under N.J.S.A. 2A:1-1 et seq. The essential element of larceny is that the item taken, regardless of its value was the property of someone other than the thief. State v. Trunfio, 58 N.J. Super. 445, 448 (App.Div.1959); State v. Taylor, 132 N.J. Super. 386, 390-391 (Cty.Ct.1975). Indeed, nowhere in prior law is there the additional requirement that a person have prior knowledge of the precise nature and value of the property taken in order to be convicted of larceny. Similarly, it is apparent that the Legislature did not intend by promulgating the Code to burden the State with this additional element.

N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 a, under which the defendant is charged, closely parallels the common law definition of ...


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