On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 260 N.J. Super. 122 (1992).
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For affirmance -- Justices Stein and Clifford. Stein, J., Dissenting. Clifford joins in this opinion.
The question in this appeal is whether an offender being sentenced on the same date for multiple drug offenses shall receive consecutive or concurrent suspensions of driving privileges for each of the drug offenses disposed of on that date. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-16 (section 16 or the statute) imposes on every person convicted of a drug offense a mandatory suspension of driving privileges for a period ranging from six months to two years. We granted certification, 133 N.J. 428, 627 A.2d 1135 (1992), to resolve a split in the Appellate Division on the issue of the power of a sentencing court to impose consecutive versus concurrent suspensions under section 16. The arguments in favor of either outcome are evenly balanced. We conclude that because sufficient flexibility exists in the range of the suspensions the court may impose, the concurrent suspension of driving privileges more closely reflects the Legislature's intent concerning this sanction and will best advance the efficient trial and Disposition of multiple drug offenses.
We need not recite the facts in detail. The case concerns incidents that occurred while T.B. was a juvenile. The provisions of section 16 apply to both adult and juvenile offenders and displace other sentencing provisions applicable to juveniles.
The first incident, on March 3, 1990, involved a melee at a party; the second incident arose from a May 25, 1990, report by T.B.'s mother that she had found fourteen vials of cocaine in his bedroom; the third incident arose from a June 2, 1990, encounter with
police seeking to arrest T.B.'s brother, in the course of which encounter the police found eighty vials of cocaine on T.B.
T.B. was tried and adjudicated a delinquent on some of the counts. He entered admissions to two counts of criminal possession of drugs. The juvenile court sentenced T.B. on one date for all of the offenses. On each of the drug counts the court imposed an indeterminate period of detention with a maximum of eighteen months, various statutory fines and penalties, and a one-year suspension of driving privileges. The court made the detention sentences concurrent. It specified that the two one-year license revocations should be consecutive to each other. T.B. appealed the Disposition of the drug offenses, specifically claiming that section 16 bars the imposition of consecutive periods of suspension of driving privileges. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's imposition of consecutive periods of suspension under section 16. 260 N.J. Super. 122, 615 A.2d 642 (1992). In addition, it held that the imposition of consecutive driving-privilege penalties under the circumstances was not an abuse of discretion. Id. at 127, 615 A.2d 642. Our grant of certification is limited to the license-suspension issue.
The statute provides, in pertinent part:
2C:35-16. Mandatory forfeiture or postponement of driving privileges.
In addition to any Disposition authorized by this title, the provisions of section 24 of P.L.1982, c. 77 (C. 2A:4A-43) [of the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice], or any other statute indicating the Dispositions that can be ordered for an adjudication of delinquency, and notwithstanding the provisions of subsection c. of N.J.S. 2C:43-2 every person convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for a violation of any offense defined in this chapter or chapter 36 of this title shall forthwith forfeit his right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period to be fixed by the court at not less than six months or more than two years which shall commence on the day the sentence is imposed. In the case of any person who at the time of the imposition of sentence is less than 17 years of age, the period of the suspension of driving privileges authorized herein, including a suspension of the privilege of operating a motorized bicycle, shall commence on the day the sentence is imposed and shall run for a period as fixed by the court of not less than six months or more than two years after the day the person reaches the age of 17 years. If the driving
privilege of any person is under revocation, suspension, or postponement for a violation of any provision of this title or Title 39 of the Revised Statutes at the time of any conviction or adjudication of delinquency for a violation of any offense defined in this chapter or chapter 36 of this title, the revocation, suspension, or postponement period imposed herein shall commence as of the date of termination of the existing revocation, suspension, or postponement.
The Legislature added the language concerning the commencement of the suspension periods and the effect of a prior loss of driving privileges in an amendment effective June 28, 1988. L. 1988, c. 44, § 7. The statute also had previously given the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles the ...