Before Judges Stern, Collester and Fall. On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Warren County, Docket No. FJ-21-421-00.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 12, 2000
The State appeals from the dismissal of its complaint charging D.J.F. as a delinquent for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:33-17(a), which provides:
Anyone who purposely or knowingly offers or serves or makes available an alcoholic beverage to a person under the legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages or entices or encourages that person to drink an alcoholic beverage is a disorderly person.
This subsection shall not apply to a parent or guardian of the person under legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages if the parent or guardian is of the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages or to a religious observance, ceremony or rite. This subsection shall also not apply to any person in his home who is of the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages who offers or serves or makes available an alcoholic beverage to a person under the legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages or entices that person to drink an alcoholic beverage in the presence of and with the permission of the parent or guardian of the person under the legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages if the parent or guardian is of the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages.
The issue before us is whether a juvenile can be adjudicated delinquent for violating the statute. We hold that he can.
The State alleges that D.J.F. served alcoholic beverages to other juveniles at his home, or allowed other juveniles to consume alcohol there. The trial judge dismissed the complaint,(*fn1) stating:
I reviewed STATE V. HA[ARDE], 230 N.J. Super. 605, and my reading of the case is that although the Appellate Division cited that part of Subsection (a) that states that "anyone" who purposely or knowingly offers or serves alcohol to an underage person is in violation of the statute.
The Appellate Division then found that the Legislature intended that the statute apply to adults. The Court referenced the legislative history, which said that the purpose of the bill was to discourage drinking by persons under the legal age to consume alcohol by placing more responsibilities on adults.
And the Court stated that the underlying purpose of the statute is to discourage drinking by persons under the legal age of 21, and –- but is applied to prohibit all adults 18 years of age or older.
They seem to imply that the statute does not apply to everyone, but only adults, and adults are defined as being individuals 18 years of age or older. So that was the way I interpreted the HA[ARDE] case, that it –-anyone doesn't mean everyone; it means adults, and adults are 18 years of age or older.
So I'll grant the defendant's –- pardon me, the juvenile's motion to dismiss Count 1.(*fn2)
Because the statute provides that "anyone" who violates its provisions is guilty of a disorderly persons offense, we could rest our determination on the plain meaning of the statute, see Board of Chosen Freeholders of Morris County v. State, 159 N.J. 565, 576 (1999); Higgins v. Pascack Valley Hosp., 158 N.J. 404, 418 (1999); State v. Butler, 89 N.J. 220, 226 (1982), and the acknowledged principle that the violation of a statute by a juvenile constitutes an act of delinquency. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A- 23 which expressly provides that "'delinquency' means the commission of an act by a juvenile which if committed by an adult would constitute . . . (b) [a] disorderly persons offense . . ." The same section of the Code of Juvenile Justice, in N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-23, excepts certain statutes from its purview. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-23 provides that the violation of certain statutes, by juveniles, does not constitute an act of "delinquency." However, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-17 is not one of those excluded statutes. Given the longstanding New Jersey law that a statutory violation, which would constitute a crime, disorderly persons offense or penal statute also constitutes "delinquency" (as more ...