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State v. A.N.J.

Decided: February 11, 1985.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
A.N.J., III, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 192 N.J. Super. 350 (1983).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J.

O'hern

This appeal concerns the meaning of certain provisions of Chapter 52 "Expungement of Records" (N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 to -32) of the Code of Criminal Justice. The specific question is whether the provisions of the Code permit the expungement of more than one disorderly persons conviction. The Appellate Division concluded that it did. We affirm that judgment.

Between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-four, A.N.J. was convicted of three disorderly persons offenses. He was convicted in Bay Head in 1973 of possession of less than twenty-five grams of marijuana, a violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-20a(3); in Sea Bright in 1974 of fighting, a violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170-27; and in 1976, in Holmdel, again of possession of less than twenty-five grams of marijuana.

In 1982, A.N.J. filed a petition, in Superior Court, to expunge his arrests and convictions in Sea Bright and Holmdel, pursuant to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 to -32. That court entered an order to expunge the records in Monmouth County on July 30, 1982.

On September 7, 1982, A.N.J. filed a petition to expunge his Ocean County disorderly persons conviction. The prosecutor of Ocean County, on behalf of the Attorney General and the State Police, objected to the relief sought, asserting that the petitioner was ineligible for relief because not more than one disorderly persons offense could be expunged. The trial court agreed and denied the request for expungement:

I think that I have to deny the motion because I think that I am governed by the Construction Section 52-32. It is to provide relief to the one-time offender, and I think you are asking me now to provide relief to a three-time offender and I don't think I can do that.

If that section [32] wasn't in there, it might very well be that it didn't really matter how many there were, but I think the law is clear and I think I have to uphold it and so I will deny the application.

On appeal the Appellate Division reversed:

[W]e find ourselves unable to imply in the statute a legislative mandate that only one disorderly persons conviction may be expunged pursuant to N.J.S.A.

2C:52-1 et seq. We hold, rather, that the statute authorizes the expungement of up to three such convictions. [192 N.J. Super. 350, 355 (App.Div.1983).]

We granted the State's petition for certification to review that judgment. 96 N.J. 278 (1984).

Both sides point to the plain language of the statute. The State asserts that by virtue of his subsequent disorderly persons convictions in Monmouth County, A.N.J. was ineligible for any relief in Ocean County pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-14a.*fn1 The State did not rely upon any other statutory basis for its objection. See, e.g., N.J.S.A. 2C:52-14b to -14f. The State's objection, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-14a, was that "there was an [explicit] ...


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