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State v. Zahl

Decided: May 18, 1992.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES F. ZAHL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Holmdel Municipal Court

Milberg, A.j.s.c.

Milberg

OPINION

In this municipal court appeal the defendant has filed a de minimis motion to dismiss his conviction in the municipal court for simple assault contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a. A de minimis motion to dismiss the prosecution was not filed prior to the defendant's conviction.

Before the court addresses the merits of the defendant's motion, it is necessary for the court to decide whether the de minimis statute authorizes the Assignment Judge to dismiss a conviction, a question not heretofore been addressed by our courts. I conclude that it does not.

N.J.S.A. 2C:2-11, the so-called de minimis statute, provides in full as follows:

"The assignment Judge may dismiss a prosecution if, having regard to the nature of the conduct charged to constitute an offense and the nature of the attendant circumstances, it finds that the defendant's conduct:

a. Was within a customary license or tolerance, neither expressly negated by the person whose interest was infringed nor inconsistent with the purpose of the law defining the offense;

b. Did not actually cause or threaten the harm or evil sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense or did so only to an extent too trivial to warrant the condemnation of conviction; or

c. Presents such other extenuations that it cannot reasonably be regarded as envisaged by the Legislature in forbidding the offense. The assignment Judge shall not dismiss a prosecution under this section without giving the prosecutor notice and an opportunity to be heard. The prosecutor shall have a right to appeal any such dismissal."

In two New Jersey reported cases the assignment Judge considered a defendant's de minimis motion subsequent to the defendant's conviction. In neither case did the court address whether N.J.S.A. 2C:2-11 authorizes the assignment Judge to do so. State v. Neves, 197 N.J. Super. 531, 485 A.2d 345 (Law Div.1984), State v. Zarrilli, 216 N.J. Super. 231, 523 A.2d 284 (Law Div.1986), aff'd 220 N.J. Super. 517, 532 A.2d 1131 (App.Div.1987).

In every case involving the application of the statute it is the function of the court to ascertain the intention of the Legislature from the plain meaning of the statute and to apply it to the facts as it finds them. A clear and unambiguous statute is not open to construction or interpretation. Watt v. Mayor and Council of Borough of Franklin, 21 N.J. 274, 277, 121 A.2d 499 (1956). In Watt the Court stated that the need for construction of a statute arises in two instances. First, when statutes on their face are clear and unequivocal but in light of related legislation and of the surrounding facts and circumstances of the case in which they are applicable, the true meaning becomes indefinite or obscure; second, when the meaning of the statute is obviously obscure or doubtful and the language used is per se capable of dual interpretation. When these ...


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