The defendants are charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3a(7), hindering apprehension or prosecution.*fn1 They bring this motion for Judgment of Acquittal after the States' case, pursuant to R. 3:18-1.*fn2 The disposition of this motion requires the court to construe the meaning of the statute under which the defendants are charged. No court of this State has previously done so.
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3a(7) provides:
A person commits an offense if, with purpose to hinder the apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for an offense he:
volunteers false information to a law enforcement officer.
It is not necessary that the facts of this case be set forth in any detail. It is sufficient to say that the charges are based on responses alleged to have been made by the defendants to a police officer who made inquiries of them regarding the identification of a person in police custody. The evidence proffered by the State provides no other basis upon which the jury might convict.
The defendants contend that the State has failed to prove that they 'volunteered' the information within the meaning of
the statute. Specifically, they argue that the statute in question proscribes only that conduct in which a person takes the initiative in providing false information to the police, that is, it penalizes only one who comes forward without any prompting or inquiry by the police and provides them with false information.
The State maintains that such an interpretation is too narrow in scope, and that the word 'volunteer' includes any voluntary statement made by a defendant whether or not it is in response to a question asked by a police officer.
The resolution of this issue requires the court to consider the legislative intent in order to determine that which the statute prohibits. In determining the legislative intent, the court must look to the fair import of the terms used in the statutory provisions unless the language "is susceptible of differing constructions," in which case the court must interpret in a manner that furthers the general purposes underlying all Code offenses and "the special purposes of the particular provision involved." N.J.S.A. 2C:1-2(c).*fn3 The "special purposes" mentioned by the Code may be found in other indicia of legislative intent, such as the Code's legislative history and committee and commission reports. See, e.g., State v. Madden, 61 N.J. 377, 389 (1972); Shapiro v. Essex Cty. Freeholder Bd., 177 N.J. Super. 87, 92-93 (Law Div.1980), aff'd. 183 N.J. Super. 24 (App.Div.1982), aff'd. 91 N.J. 430 (1982). Looking first at the 'fair import' of the term, I note that the verb "volunteer" is defined in the dictionary as follows:
[T]o offer (oneself or one's services) for some undertaking or purpose; . . . to give, bestow, or perform without being asked. . .; to say, tell, or communicate voluntarily . . . . [ The Random House Dictionary of ...