Jonathan N. Harris, J.s.c.
Ownership of firearms and a criminal conviction do not mix. N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c)(1). Nevertheless, a person whose criminal conviction has been expunged may be entitled to a permit to purchase a firearm. N.J.S.A. 2C:52-27. In this gun permit appeal, appellant Walter Hart was convicted in 1971 in New York of coercion in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor. Expungement of that conviction is unavailable in both New York and New Jersey. Having been denied a firearms purchaser identification card and a permit to purchase a handgun by the Bergenfield Chief of Police, appellant now claims that he is entitled to the card and permit because his conviction was not for a "crime." Alternatively, he argues that even if it were a crime, because of the passage of time, he is entitled to be treated as if the crime were expunged. I conclude that for purposes of New Jersey's Gun Control Law the conviction was for a crime. Furthermore, in the absence of a legislative remedy akin to expungement which would remove the conviction as a disability, appellant is not entitled to either a firearms purchaser identification card or a permit to purchase a handgun.
On November 28, 1969, appellant -- a New York City police detective -- was charged in New York with nine offenses ranging from bribe receiving to unlawful imprisonment. On April 21, 1971 he was convicted of a single charge of coercion in the second degree in violation of N.Y.Penal Law § 135.60 (McKinney 1987). Coercion in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor with a
maximum punishment of one year imprisonment pursuant to N.Y.Penal Law § 70.15(1) (McKinney 1987). Appellant was sentenced to three months imprisonment which sentence was served.
Since 1971 appellant has apparently led a law-abiding life. He is a licensed plumber with his own plumbing and heating company. Although the record is almost barren, it appears that appellant is a one-time offender who, since 1971, has led a life of rectitude and disassociated himself with unlawful activity.
The questions presented on this gun permit appeal are 1) whether the New York conviction was for a "crime" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c)(1) and 2) even if the conviction was for a crime, does it stand today as a disability in light of the philosophy of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 et seq. which permits expungements of New Jersey crimes after 10 years.
COERCION IN THE SECOND DEGREE IS A CRIME
Appellant claims that his conviction in New York was not for a "crime" for purposes of gun permitting in New Jersey because he did not enjoy the right to be indicted for the offense in New York. Under New Jersey statutory and constitutional law, any statutory offense for which a sentence of imprisonment in excess of six months is authorized, constitutes a crime within the meaning of the New Jersey Constitution, and the accused is therefore protected by Art. 1, para. 8:
No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense, unless on the presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases of impeachment, or in cases now prosecuted without indictment, or arising in the army or navy or in the ...