[194 NJSuper Page 592] Defendants Ralph Williams, David Gordy and Richard McManus were charged in separate, unrelated incidents with violating
the former-felon possession statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7, which provides:
Any person, having been convicted in this State or elsewhere of the crime of aggravated assault, arson, burglary, escape, extortion, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, or sexual assault, whether or not armed with or having in his possession any weapon enumerated in section 2C:39-1 r., or any person who has ever been committed for a mental disorder to any hospital, mental institution or sanitarium unless he possesses a certificate of a medical doctor or psychiatrist licensed to practice in New Jersey or other satisfactory proof that he is no longer suffering from a mental disorder which interferes with or handicaps him in the handling of a firearm, or any person who has been convicted for the unlawful use, possession or sale of a controlled dangerous substance as defined in article 2 of P.L.1970, c. 226 (C. 24:21-3 et seq.), who purchases, owns, possesses or controls any of the said weapons is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.
On August 25, 1983, Ralph Williams, a convicted felon, was working as a supervisor of a crew for a painting company. In performing his duties, defendant uses a razor cutter to scrape paint and masking tape off surfaces. During his lunch break, defendant stood outside a restaurant conversing with an acquaintance. At the conclusion of the conversation, Atlantic City Police approached defendant and arrested him pursuant to an outstanding arrest warrant. A search incident to the arrest revealed a razor cutter that was protruding from defendant's pants pocket. At no time did the police observe defendant touch the object.
On August 1, 1983, David Gordy, a convicted felon, and others, were laying tile on the floor of Kimberly Toulson's kitchen. Defendant Gordy used a "banana knife", ten inches in length with a five inch blade, to mark and cut the tile. Before actually laying the tile, defendant would place the knife in his rear pants pocket to avoid misplacing it. Around 8:00 p.m. defendant and another man left Toulson's home to purchase some beer, intending to return to finish the job. Later that evening, Atlantic City detectives conducted a Terry pat down of defendant while he was walking in a high-crime area of the
city.*fn1 The detectives discovered the "banana knife" in defendant's rear pants pocket. Defendant did not touch the knife during the incident or possess it under circumstances of a suspicious nature.
For the past three years, defendant Richard McManus has been employed as a commercial fisherman. As a matter of habit, defendant carries around an eight inch folding knife that is a tool of his trade. On April 14, 1983, at 11:00 p.m., Atlantic City detectives conducted a Terry pat down of defendant and discovered the folding knife. Defendant was not observed touching it.
At issue in the three cases is the scope of the definition of "weapon", referred to in the former-felon possession statute, and defined in N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1 r., to wit:
"Weapon" means anything readily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury. The term includes, but is not limited to, all (1) firearms, even though not loaded or lacking a clip or other component to render them immediately operable; (2) components which can be readily assembled into a weapon; and (3) gravity knives, switchblade knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, or other dangerous knives, billies, blackjacks, bludgeons, metal knuckles, sand-clubs, slingshots, cestus or similar leather bands studded with metal filings or razor blades imbedded in wood; and any weapon or other device which projects, releases, or ...