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State v. Valentin

Decided: January 13, 1987.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DENNY VALENTIN, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 208 N.J. Super. 536 (1986).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For reversal and remandment -- Justice Clifford. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, Justice. Clifford, Justice, dissenting.

Garibaldi

This appeal concerns the interpretation of the word "volunteers" in N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Specifically, we must decide whether a defendant who in response to a law-enforcement officer's inquiry gives a false name thereby violates N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4), which proscribes "volunteer[ing] false information to a law enforcement officer."

I

This case arises in the context of a motor vehicle stop. On April 9, 1985, a state trooper stopped a car driven by defendant, Denny Valentin, for a routine motor vehicle violation. The car was registered to Dollar-Rent-A-Car of Florida. The company had reported the car stolen by Valentin, the lessee, after he failed to return the vehicle. The company was seeking to prosecute the defendant.

When Valentin was stopped, the state trooper asked for his name, and he replied "Ramon Velez." The trooper then issued

a motor vehicle summons and released Valentin. Shortly thereafter the same trooper stopped Valentin for another motor vehicle infraction. This time Valentin gave his own name. The trooper however remembered that Valentin had given a different name on the prior occasion. Hence he was prosecuted on two counts: receiving stolen property in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7; and hindering his own apprehension by "volunteering" the name of Velez on the first occasion in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4).

Defendant filed a motion in the trial court to dismiss count two of the indictment. The motion asserted that because defendant merely responded to the officer's questions, he did not "volunteer" false information within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Specifically, defendant argues that the statute in question prohibits taking the initiative in providing false information to law-enforcement officials, not merely responding to an inquiry. The State asserts that this interpretation is too narrow and that the word "volunteer" includes practically any deliberate advance of information not technically required by law, whether or not made in response to a law-enforcement officer's inquiry.*fn1

The trial court found that "[o]ne who is questioned by an armed law enforcement officer, has not 'taken the initiative' and affirmatively volunteered information but has merely responded to police questioning." Accordingly, he granted defendant's motion to dismiss. The Appellate Division affirmed, similarly concluding that "to be guilty under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4), the actor must take the initiative in providing the false information. He cannot be culpable if he responds falsely to a question by a law enforcement officer." State v. Valentin, 208 N.J. Super. 536, 540 (1986).

The majority of the Appellate Division expressly overruled State v. Alexander, 198 N.J. Super. 594 (Law Div. 1984), certif. den., 102 N.J. 303 (1985), which had held that one "volunteers" information when responding to police-initiated inquiries. Instead, the majority followed State v. D'Addario, 196 N.J. Super. 392, 396 (Law Div. 1984), which held that to be culpable the actor must take the initiative in giving false information or must offer to give it without solicitation.

In his concurring opinion, Judge Shebell did not agree with the majority that the legislature had intended such a limited scope for N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Nevertheless, he concurred in the judgment because he concluded that the legislators "ha[d] not enacted their intention with sufficient clarity to allow application of the statute to any persons other than those 'who take the initiative in throwing the police off the track.'" 208 N.J. Super. at 541. Pursuant to Rule 2:2-2(b) and Rule 2:5-6(a), we granted the State's motion for leave to appeal the judgment of the Appellate Division, 104 N.J. 372 (1986), and now affirm.

II

N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4) provides:

b. A person commits an offense if, with purpose to hinder his own apprehension, prosecution, ...


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