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State in Interest of J.M.

Decided: February 22, 1994.

STATE IN THE INTEREST OF J.M.


Fuentes

Fuentes

OPINION

J.L. FUENTES, J.S.C.

In this case the court is asked to apply the recently amended sentencing provisions for juvenile motor vehicle offenses, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43e(2) and 2A:4A-43f, to J.M. These sections mandate a minimum term of incarceration for certain repeat offenders, and preclude the court from crediting such repeat offenders with time served pending adjudication, to the extent that it would be deducted from the mandatory minimum term. The relevant statutory provisions were enacted in June of 1993 and have yet to be subject to formal judicial review. This case raises questions of constitutional dimension which are of first impression in this jurisdiction.

On March 16, 1993, J.M. plead guilty to acts which, if committed by an adult, would have constituted Unlawful Taking of a Means of Conveyance (Joyriding) in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10. At that time he was sentenced to six months probation. On January 28, 1994, J.M. plead guilty to acts committed on July 16, 1993, which, if committed by an adult, would have constituted Receiving Stolen Property in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7. The stolen property involved was a motor vehicle. It is for this offense that

J.M. must now be sentenced. As of this date, J.M. has spent 197 days in the Hudson County Youth House pending the Disposition of this charge.

In June of 1993, the legislature amended N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43 to provide:

e. In addition to any Disposition the court may impose pursuant to this section . . . the following orders shall be included in Dispositions of the adjudications set forth below: (2) An order of incarceration for a term of the duration authorized pursuant to this section . . . which shall include a minimum term of 60 days during which the juvenile shall be ineligible for parole, if the juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent for an act which, if committed by an adult, would constitute . . . theft of a motor vehicle, in a case in which the juvenile has previously been adjudicated delinquent for an act which, if committed by an adult, would constitute unlawful taking of a motor vehicle . . . (emphasis added)

The legislature further amended this section to provide:

f. (1) The minimum terms of incarceration required pursuant to subsection e. of this section shall be imposed regardless of the weight or balance of factors set forth in this section . . . but the weight and balance of those factors shall determine the length of the term of incarceration appropriate, if any, beyond any mandatory minimum term required pursuant to subsection e. of this section. No time spent in custody prior to adjudication of delinquency shall be considered as time served on a mandatory minimum term of incarceration pursuant to subsection e. of this section. (emphasis added)

This legislative mandate directly contradicts the New Jersey Supreme Court's direction to all state courts that "(a) juvenile shall receive credit on the term of a custodial sentence for any time he has served in detention or court-ordered shelter care between apprehension and Disposition." R. 5:21-3(e).

This case raises three distinct issues, one a matter of statutory interpretation and two questions of constitutional dimension.

I. DO THE NEWLY AMENDED SENTENCING PROVISIONS APPLY TO J.M.?

N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43e(2) mandates a minimum term of incarceration for all juveniles adjudicated delinquent of acts which, if

committed by an adult, would constitute theft of a motor vehicle, who have previously been adjudicated delinquent of acts which, if committed by an adult, would constitute unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. J.M. falls squarely into this category. His previous adjudication of delinquency on March 16, 1993 for "joyriding" constitutes an unlawful taking of a motor vehicle under the New Jersey Criminal Code (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10). His current adjudication of delinquency for receiving a stolen motor vehicle constitutes a theft of a motor vehicle under the Code (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7). The only question remaining is whether the fact that J.M.'s adjudication of delinquency for joyriding predated the passage of the new provisions affects their application to him. In other words, is J.M. a repeat offender, as defined by the newly amended N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43e? Or did the legislature intend that the new provisions apply only to juveniles adjudicated delinquent of both the first and second offenses after the passage of the amendments in order to trigger the minimum mandatory penalties?

N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43e(2) states that the minimum term of incarceration is mandatory in any "case in which the juvenile has previously been adjudicated delinquent for" the target offenses. This language, given its normal meaning, encompasses any previous adjudications for the listed offenses, not just those which postdate the passage of the act. The New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized that "statutory language should be given its ordinary meaning absent specific intent to the contrary." Renz v. Penn Central Corp., 87 N.J. 437, 435 A.2d 540 (1981). Also, "it is a settled rule of statutory construction that if the language chosen by the Legislature is plain and the result is not contrary to obvious legislative intent, the sole function of the court is to enforce it according to its terms." (citations omitted) State v. Maguire, 84 N.J. 508, 423 A.2d 294 (1980).

There is no legislative history to indicate that the intent of the legislature was contrary to the most common meaning of the language of the act. In the absence of anything indicating a contrary legislative intent, I hold that N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43e(2) applies to any juvenile who has a previous adjudication of delinquency for unlawful taking of a motor vehicle or theft of a motor

vehicle, whether or not that previous adjudication predates the passage of the act. Therefore, J.M. must be sentenced to at least a minimum ...


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