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State v. Benford

Decided: September 30, 1992.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CRAIG RODERICK BENFORD, DEFENDANT



Imbriani, P.J.Cr.

Imbriani

OPINION

This case presents the novel question of whether a defendant may be convicted of burglary of an automobile if his intent at the time of the entry into an automobile was to commit only the disorderly persons offense of joyriding.

Early one cold morning, on January 27, 1992, three North Plainfield residents decided to warm up their automobiles while they prepared to go to work. The automobiles, each parked in their separate driveways, were started, left running, unattended and unlocked, while their respective owners returned to their residences to complete breakfast. At the same time the defendant, while under the influence of cocaine, was sauntering down the street when he saw the first car, got in and drove off. A block or two later he saw the second car which looked more appealing, so he left the first car at the curb and drove off with the second car. A block or two later the same events occurred and he drove off with the third car, which he also left at the curb about two blocks away. The entire sequence of events could not have taken more than fifteen minutes. Would a finding by the triers of the facts that when the defendant entered each automobile he intended to commit only the offense of joyriding, and not automobile theft, support automobile burglary convictions?

In answering this question we must construe language in N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2 entitled "Burglary" and N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10 entitled "Unlawful Taking of Means of Conveyance" (hereinafter "joyriding") and reconcile what appears to be a conflict in the legislative purpose underlying each statute.

It is indisputable that the purpose of the Legislature in making joyriding a disorderly persons offense punishable with a maximum jail sentence of only six months was to treat it less harshly than a crime. However, the commission of the offense of joyriding must be preceded by an entry into an automobile and, if this conduct also constitutes burglary, the defendant has committed not only the offense of joyriding but the more serious third degree offense of burglary which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a possible 2 1/2 year parole disqualifier. As a consequence, the legislative intent to treat joyriding as a disorderly persons offense could be thwarted by simply charging the defendant with third degree burglary. The

ultimate charge is apparently left to the unbridled discretion of the Prosecutor.

The burglary statute reads in pertinent part as follows:

a. Burglary defined. A person is guilty of burglary if, with purpose to commit an offense therein he:

(1) Enters a structure . . .

b. Grading . . . burglary is a crime of the ...


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