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Application of R.C.

March 11, 1996

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF R.C. FOR EXPUNGEMENT


Berman, J.s.c.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Berman

Berman, J.S.C.

This expungement application presents a novel issue: does N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(c), which bars expungements of convictions for the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, also bar the expungement of a conviction for aiding and abetting the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance?

Facts

In 1983, the defendant pled guilty to aiding and abetting the distribution of LSD in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 and 2C:2-6b(3). He was sentenced to three years probation and was fined. The defendant's probation period was ended prematurely pursuant to an order to terminate supervision signed September 11, 1985. The defendant has not been arrested since this incident.

On December 1, 1995, the defendant applied for an expungement of the aiding and abetting charge. The state has objected, arguing that N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(c) bars the expungement. This Court reserved decision after hearing oral argument.

Legal Arguments

The defendant argues that N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(c) only bars expungements of convictions for the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. He asks the Court to read the expungement statute literally. The state argues that the spirit of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2-(c) mandates convictions for aiding and abetting the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance be barred from expungement.. The state emphasizes that this would be the equitable result as aiders and abettors are treated as principals in criminal law.

Analysis

The expungement statute first provides:

In all cases, except as herein provided, wherein a person has been convicted of a crime under the laws of this State and who has not been convicted of any prior or subsequent crime, whether within this State or any other jurisdiction, and has not been adJudged a disorderly person or petty disorderly person on more than two occasions may . . . present a duly verified petition . . . praying that such conviction and all records and information pertaining thereto be expunged. N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a).

The statute continues by listing exceptions to this general rule. The pertinent exception in this case provides: "In the case of conviction for the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance or possession thereof with intent to sell, expungement shall be denied except where the crimes relate to: (1) Marijuana, where the total quantity sold, distributed or possessed with intent to sell was 25 grams or less, or (2) Hashish, where the total quantity sold, distributed or possessed with intent to sell was five grams or less." N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(c). There is no case law which addresses expunging aiding and abetting this crime. Thus, this Court must interpret the breadth of this exception to the expungement statute.

The Court's obligation is to enforce the legislative will as expressed by the clear language of the statute. State v. H.J.B., 240 N.J. Super. 216, 220, 572 A.2d 1205 (Law Div. 1990). Other courts, when interpreting the breadth of the expungement statute, have relied on a principle of statutory construction articulated by the Supreme Court. "When a statute is clear on its face, a court need not look beyond the statutory terms to determine legislative intent." Matter of M.D.Z., 286 N.J. Super. 82, 85, 668 A.2d 423 (App. Div. 1995) quoting State v. Churchdale Leasing Inc., 115 N.J. 83, 101, 557 A.2d 277 (1989). In analyzing N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(c), the Court recognizes that the statutory language is clear and that the only crime barred from expungement by this section is the actual sale or distribution.

Further, statutory construction of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2 supports the Conclusion that the Legislative intent, as expressed by the clear language of this statute, was to only bar convictions for the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. The first paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(b) is a list of crimes barred from expungement. The paragraph concludes that attempts, conspiracies to commit, and aiding or abetting convictions for these crimes are also barred from expungement. The second paragraph of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(b) lists additional crimes which cannot be the basis of expungement. For these crimes, however, the plain language only prevents expungements of convictions for the crimes listed and convictions for conspiring or attempting to commit those crimes. N.J.S.A. ...


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