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State v. Womack

July 25, 1996


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by Handler, J. Justices Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, And Coleman join in Justice Handler's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Handler

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

State v. Eric Womack (A-89/146-95)

Argued March 25, 1996 -- Decided July 25, 1996

Handler, J., writing for a unanimous Court.

This appeal presents two issues: 1) whether a civil fine that specifically imposes a "penalty" and also assesses an amount for reimbursing the government for its costs constitutes punishment under the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the New Jersey and United States Constitutions; and 2) whether the failure of the prosecutor to disclose to the grand jury exculpatory information warrants dismissal of all or part of the criminal indictment against Eric Womack.

The Enforcement Bureau of the Division of Consumer Affairs, acting on a complaint it had received, sent an agent to Womack's business, the "Christian Health Institute Wellness Center," to investigate whether Womack was holding himself out as a medical doctor and practicing medicine without a license. The investigator claimed to be a patient suffering from rectal bleeding. The investigator signed a disclaimer and an authorization form and then submitted urine, hair and saliva samples. Womack introduced himself as "an N.D., a Naturopathic Doctor." He examined the investigator, using rather unorthodox methods of diagnostics and treatment.

Based on the investigator's report, the Attorney General's Office filed a civil complaint in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, charging Eric Womack with the unlicensed practice of medicine in violation of the Medical Practices Act. The Attorney General sought to enjoin Womack's activities and to impose a civil sanction. Two days after the Attorney General filed a civil complaint, the Division of Consumer Affairs filed a criminal complaint also charging Womack with the unauthorized practice of medicine based on the same conduct.

The Attorney General obtained a civil injunction against Womack, whereby he was permitted to continue operating the Wellness Center so long as he abided by certain restrictions and not practice medicine. On November 16, 1993, the civil action was settled through a consent order entered by the Superior Court, Chancery Division, pursuant to which Womack agreed to abide by the conditions of the permanent injunction. Furthermore, Womack agreed to "pay to the State of New Jersey the sum of $5,000.00 in civil penalties and $3,554.07 in investigative costs, plus interest..."

One week after the civil action was settled, the Essex County prosecutor took Womack's criminal case to a grand jury. The Enforcement Bureau investigator was the only witness called to testify before the grand jury. On December 2, 1993, the grand jury returned an indictment charging Womack with one count of practicing medicine without a license in the third degree.

Womack moved to dismiss the indictment, asserting that: 1) the prosecution was violative of the Double Jeopardy Clause; and 2) that the prosecutor's actions before the grand jury amounted to misconduct because the prosecutor misled the grand jury and failed to disclose certain exculpatory information. The trial court agreed in part and dismissed the criminal indictment against Womack on double jeopardy grounds.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court, finding no double jeopardy bar to the criminal prosecution. Nonetheless, the court dismissed, without prejudice, a portion of the indictment because of the State's misconduct in failing to disclose to the grand jury information that directly refuted the investigator's testimony.

The Supreme Court granted Womack's petition for certification and the State's cross-petition for certification.


Because the language of the order imposing a civil fine on Eric Womack indicates that it may have been intended to be punitive rather than remedial, a remand is required to permit the trial court to determine the nature of the fine. If it is concluded that the civil fine has a punitive purpose, and the State is unable to amend the civil judgment and return the punitive portion of that judgment to Womack, the State will be barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause from prosecuting Womack for the same conduct. In addition, that portion of the criminal indictment charging Womack with holding himself out as a medical doctor is dismissed without prejudice because of the State's failure to present clearly exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.

1. The protection under the Double Jeopardy Clause against multiple punishments may be implicated by a civil penalty following a criminal penalty if the civil sanction is levied in a separate proceeding, is based on the same conduct, and is punitive in nature. In determining whether a fine is punitive, courts should examine whether the fine can be characterized as remedial or whether it serves as a deterrent or retribution. In making that determination, courts must examine the purpose and intent of the sanction in question and its impact. In this case, a plain reading of the civil consent decree, as well as the State's understanding of that order, indicates that the civil fine may have been intended to be punitive. However, its purpose may have been remedial because its impact does not appear to be punitive. (pp. 5-8)

2. Conclusive evidence of the purpose and intent of the parties at the time the fine was imposed cannot be determined from this record. Although the civil sanction here is clearly not grossly disproportionate to the costs the State has incurred in prosecuting this action, the record reflects sufficient ambiguity on the intention of the parties in imposing the penalty to warrant remanding the action for a determination of whether the intention of the fine was punitive. If on remand, it is clear that the intent of the State and the court at the time the fine was imposed was to punish Womack, then double jeopardy would bar the criminal prosecution. Nonetheless, the State may still be able to avoid the double jeopardy bar, if it can ...

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