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State in Interest of L.M.

Decided: December 1, 1988.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF L.M., JUVENILE-APPELLANT


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County.

Pressler, Scalera and Stern. The opinion of the court was delivered by Scalera, J.A.D.

Scalera

[229 NJSuper Page 92] L.M., a juvenile, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, cocaine, within 1000 feet of a school, a third-degree crime contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, adopted as part of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986,*fn1 N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1 et seq. He was consequently adjudicated to be a juvenile delinquent and was sentenced to a two-year custodial sentence which was stayed and was placed on probation conditioned upon completion of a drug rehabilitation program. He also was required to pay the "$25 lab analysis fee" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-20b, the mandatory Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction (DEDR) fine of $1000 for third degree drug offenses pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-15(a)(3), and deprived of his privilege to secure a driver's license for six months after he reached the age of 17 years pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-16. He appeals from the imposition of that sentence, based solely on the assertion that the mandatory

nature of the penalty required by the DEDR statute is constitutionally infirm for several reasons.

The facts are not in dispute. On Wednesday, September 2, 1987, L.M. then 14 years old, was standing with two others, Kenneth Nero, an adult, and R.G., another juvenile, within 1000 feet of Paterson School Number 6. Paterson police officers on surveillance observed an unidentified black male approach Nero and R.G. and after a brief conversation, hand Nero some money. Nero then directed the black male to L.M., who handed him a small object which he placed in his pants pocket and walked away. Upon observing a second similar transaction, the police moved in to arrest L.M. and his associates. L.M. was observed to place several vials into his mouth but the officers forced him to spit out the vials which were found to contain "crack" cocaine.

L.M. argues that the mandatory DEDR penalties unconstitutionally discriminate between those juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent for committing drug offenses and those whose adjudications are based on any other offense because the latter are not subject to mandatory fines even if they have committed "more serious offenses." Further, he claims that the penalty provisions are fundamentally unfair and violate constitutional principles of due process by placing an unjustifiably heavy burden on a juvenile's liberty and property interests and amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, he contends that both N.J.S.A. 2C:35-15 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-16 are violative of the prohibition against statutory amendment and incorporation by reference contained in Art. IV, § VII, par. 5 of the 1947 New Jersey Constitution.

The State answers that the mandatory penalties required by N.J.S.A. 2C:35-15 are rationally related to the State's legitimate interest in deterring the possession, use and distribution of controlled dangerous substances by juveniles as well as adults; that L.M.'s arguments concern "only an administrative problem for the State" in collecting the DEDR penalties and not

a constitutional infirmity in the imposition of these penalties; that the mandatory penalty scheme is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory; and that the penalties are not excessive simply because of L.M.'s particular inability to pay them, especially in light of the alternative methods of payment or punishment which are available, nor are they "shocking" or "disproportionate" to the offenses committed. Finally, the State contends that the statutory provisions in question are not the type of fraudulent or deceptive legislation that would offend the prohibition on amendment or incorporation by reference contained in Art. IV, § VII, par. 5 of the New Jersey Constitution. We agree with the State and reject L.M.'s arguments.

First, the mandatory DEDR penalties of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-15 do not discriminate against juveniles in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Art. I, par. 1, of the New Jersey Constitution. Equal protection claims under the Fourteenth Amendment are subject to a three-tier analysis, depending upon the type of right affected. Governmental action which purports to regulate a "fundamental right" or disparately treats a "suspect class" is subject to strict scrutiny -- i.e., the action must further a compelling state interest and must be the least restrictive available means of accomplishing that objective. San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 16, 93 S. Ct. 1278, 1287, 36 L. Ed. 2d 16, reh'g den, 411 U.S. 959, 93 S. Ct. 1919, 36 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1973); Barone v. Dept. of Human Services, 107 N.J. 355, 364-65 (1987). "Intermediate scrutiny" is applied in analyzing such actions which regulate a "semi-suspect class" or affect a fundamental right in an indirect manner -- i.e., the action complained of must serve an "important" governmental objective and be "substantially related" to the achievement of that objective. Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197, 97 S. Ct. 451, 456, 50 L. Ed. 2d 397 (1976) reh'g den. 429 U.S. 1124, 97 S. Ct. 1161, 51 L. Ed. 2d 574 (1977); Barone, 107 N.J. at 365. If neither "suspect" or "semi-suspect" classifications nor fundamental rights are involved,

the governmental action complained of is subjected only to a "rational basis" analysis -- i.e., the action must be rationally related to the achievement of a legitimate state interest. Massachusetts Bd. of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 312, 96 S. Ct. 2562, 2566, 49 L. Ed. 2d 520 (1976); Barone, 107 N.J. at 365; Rubin v. Glaser, 83 N.J. 299, 309 (1980), app. dis'd 449 U.S. 977, 101 S. Ct. 389, 66 L. Ed. 2d 239 (1980).

Where the Legislature has created non-suspect classifications of offenders for purposes of fixing penalties, New Jersey courts apply the traditional rational basis test.*fn2 State v. Corbitt, 74 N.J. 379, 401 (1977), aff'd 439 U.S. 212, 99 S. Ct. 492, 58 L. Ed. 2d 466 (1980). "[I]n the area of classification of criminal or penal offenders for purposes of penalty or punishment the Legislature may provide for differences of treatment so long as there is some rational connection between the classification and a proper legislative purpose." 74 N.J. at 401.

The statement of policy accompanying the enactment of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986 ...


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