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State v. Reiner

July 07, 2004

STATE OF NEW JERSEY
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
PHILIP REINER,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from and certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 363 N.J. Super. 167 (2003).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(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).

The issue before the Court is whether the heightened penalties contained in N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g) (subsection (g)), applicable on conviction of a second offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) within 1,000 feet of school property, may be imposed when a defendant's first DWI offense did not occur within 1,000 feet of school property.

On October 10, 2000, the Newton Police Department charged Reiner with: DWI contrary to subsection (a); refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test; driving the wrong way on a one-way street; failure to stop before turning right on red; and failure to maintain a lane. Reiner had previously been convicted of DWI under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) (subsection (a)).

At a case management conference on October 31, 2000, Reiner was advised that the State would be charging him also with DWI within 1,000 feet of school property contrary to subsection (g), as well as with refusal to take a breathalyzer test after having been stopped within 1,000 feet of school property (collectively, the "school zone charges").

The municipal court rejected Reiner's pre-trial argument that he did not receive adequate notice of the school zone charges against him. After three days of trial, the municipal court found Reiner guilty of DWI within 1,000 feet of school property and guilty of all other charges, except refusal to take a breathalyzer test after having been stopped within 1,000 feet of school property. The municipal court sentenced Reiner consistent with the penalties for a second-time offender under subsection (g), specifically imposing: ninety-six hours in jail; seventy-five days at the Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) for having driven intoxicated in a school zone when children were present; a four-year suspension of his driver's license; sixty days of community service; and forty-eight hours at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. The court also imposed certain fines, penalties, and fees.

The Law Division, on de novo review, found that Reiner had adequate notice that he was being charged with DWI in a school zone, and affirmed the municipal court's determination that the second-offense penalties of subsection (g) applied to defendant's current DWI conviction. The court also affirmed the sentence imposed by the municipal court for Reiner's DWI conviction.

On appeal, a divided panel of the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court. The majority determined that Reiner received adequate notice that he was being charged under subsection (g) and that he should be sentenced as a second-time offender pursuant to subsection (g), even though he had no prior convictions for DWI within a school zone. The dissenting member of the court found the statute vague as to whether two convictions were required under subsection (g) for a defendant to be sentenced as a repeat offender. The dissent reconciled that ambiguity by concluding that subsections (a) and (g) are separate offenses with separate sentencing schemes.

Reiner appealed as of right based on the dissent in the Appellate Division. The Supreme Court also granted Reiner's petition for certification limited to the question whether Reiner had adequate notice of the school zone charges.

HELD: Subsection (a) and (g) of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 are separate offenses; therefore, in order to be sentenced as a second-time offender under subsection (g), there must be another conviction against the defendant under that subsection.

1. If the meaning of the text of a statute is clear and unambiguous on its face, the Court must enforce its meaning. If the language admits of more than one interpretation, the Court may look to sources outside the language to ascertain the Legislature's intent. Here, the meaning of the text of the statute is not free from doubt as evidenced by the reasonable interpretations advanced by the parties regarding the relationship between subsections (a) and (g). Accordingly, the Court must look to extrinsic sources to ascertain legislative intent. (Pp. 5-11)

2. The Legislature added subsection (g), known as Filomena's Law in response to the tragic death of a school crossing guard who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while protecting children from the oncoming vehicle. The language and structure of the proposed bills demonstrated an intention to treat DWI in a school zone as grounds for enhanced penalties. However, these proposed bills were not approved by the Legislature. Instead, the Legislature signed into law a Substitute Bill. Adding a separate subsection (g) for school zone offense and redrafting the new subsection to omit the automatic "doubling" language support the interpretation advanced by both the dissent in the Appellate Division and Reiner. Further, the Statement accompanying the Substitute Bill more persuasively supports interpreting subsection (g) as creating a separate offense, rather than enhancing the penalties for DWI offenses in general. Further, the phrasing of a more recent amendment to the statute, subsection (h), suggests that subsections (a) and (g) are separate offenses. (Pp. 11-16)

3. Neither the text of the statute nor the extrinsic aids to statutory interpretation answer the question whether Reiner should be sentenced as a second-time offender under subsection (g). Therefore, the statute must be construed strictly against the State and in favor of Reiner. Under the circumstances here, the more favorable result for Reiner would be to construe subsection (g) as a separate offense that requires other subsection (g) convictions for repeat status to attach. In respect of the subsection (g) offense, Reiner is a first-time offender. He is a repeat offender only under subsection (a). (Pp. 16-18)

4. The trial court should sentence Reiner in accordance with the heightened penalties that apply as a consequence of being a second-time offender under subsection (a). That would fulfill the legislative intent in respect of the punishment of repeat DWI offenders. (Pp. 18-19)

5. The Court rejects Reiner's contention that he did not receive adequate notice that the State would be pursuing school zone charges against him substantially for the reasons expressed by the Appellate Division. The school zone charge was noted in the police report and Reiner was advised three weeks after his arrest and two weeks before his first court appearance that the State would be pursuing the school zone charges. (Pp. 19)

Judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the Law Division for resentencing of Reiner in accordance with the instructions contained in this opinion.

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, VERNIERO, ZAZZALI, ALBIN and WALLACE join in JUSTICE LaVECCHIA'S opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice LaVECCHIA

Argued April 27, 2004

In this appeal we are called on to determine whether the heightened penalties contained in N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g) (subsection (g)), applicable upon conviction of a second offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) within 1,000 feet of school property, may be imposed when a defendant's first DWI offense did not occur within 1,000 feet of school property. The predicate "first offense" here involved a conviction and sentence under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) (subsection (a)). A divided

Appellate Division held that the subsection (g) second-offender penalties applied in the foregoing circumstances. State v. Reiner, 363 N.J. Super. 167, ...


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