On appeal from Superior Court of Passaic County, Chancery Division, Family Part.
Before Judges Pressler, Landau and Newman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
NEWMAN, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned)
This is an appeal on leave granted from an order denying the defendant Omelio Saavedra's motion to dismiss the notice filed by the Passaic County Prosecutor pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:25-21d(3) to forfeit a seized 9 MM Berretta arising out of a domestic violence complaint. The issue of first impression raised is whether the prosecutor's petition to obtain title to the seized weapon, was timely even though not filed within 45 days of the seizure, can nonetheless be viewed as timely under the forementioned statutory provision. We conclude that it was and therefore affirm.
The pertinent facts are as follows. On July 23, 1993, Victoria Saavedra, who was in the midst of a divorce action, filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband, Omelio Saavedra, the defendant. The complaint alleged, among other things, that the defendant told his father-in-law that he was thinking about shooting his four year old son, his wife and himself. No prior history of violence was reported in the complaint. A temporary restraining order was issued by the North Haledon Municipal Court on the same day and a seizure of the defendant's handgun was directed. A 9 MM Berretta was seized by the local police on the evening of July 23, 1993 from the Saavedra household.
On July 27, 1993, a hearing was conducted by the Family Part on the domestic violence complaint. In addition to issuing a restraining order, the Judge directed: "Weapon already confiscated to remain in custody of North Haledon Police." The wife signed a contempt complaint on November 8, 1993, in which she alleged that the defendant violated the restraining order. On December 20, 1993, the Passaic County Prosecutor filed a motion styled Forfeiture/Disposal of Weapons and Revocation of Authorization for Said Weapons Under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The motion was filed within 45 days of the time when the county prosecutor learned of the weapon seizure, but 150 days after the weapon had been initially seized by the local police.
The defendant moved to dismiss the prosecutor's forfeiture motion on the ground that it was not filed within 45 days of the seizure. The prosecutor opposed the motion. The motion Judge, Judge Clark, denied the motion to dismiss the prosecutor's forfeiture application, finding extenuating circumstances warranting extension of the filing deadline.
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq., was the strong legislative response to what was perceived as a problem requiring more appropriate and expeditious address by all levels of law enforcement as well as the court system. In a statement of legislative findings directly incorporated into the body of the Act itself, the Legislature had this to say:
The Legislature finds and declares that domestic violence is a serious crime against society; that there are thousands of persons in this State who are regularly beaten, tortured and in some cases even killed by their spouses or cohabitants; that a significant number of women who are assaulted are pregnant; that victims of domestic violence come from all social and economic backgrounds and ethnic groups; that there is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse; and that children, even when they are not themselves physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence. ...