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State v. Perez

October 13, 2005

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LUIS PEREZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

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).

Luis Perez was charged in a multi-count indictment with taking part in a scheme to obtain fraudulent motor vehicle documents. Perez's co-defendant, Maria Elena Vijande, held the position of Head Clerk at the North Bergen Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office, which was authorized to issue motor vehicle licenses and registrations on behalf of the State of New Jersey. Perez and others were charged with conspiring with Vijande to issue false DMV documents based on fraudulent applications. At the time of the events leading to the indictment against Perez, the North Bergen DMV was one of many motor vehicle agencies that had been privatized pursuant to government order. As a consequence of the privatization, the clerks at the North Bergen DMV, including Vijande, were not employed by the State. Rather, they were employed by a corporate entity with whom the State contracted to run the North Bergen DMV office.

Reserving his right to appeal, Perez entered a plea of guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 2C:30-2 (Count 1), as part of a plea agreement that called for dismissal of all other counts against him. Prior to entering his plea, Perez moved to dismiss both the conspiracy count and a charge of accomplice to official misconduct (Count 2). Perez argued before the trial court that he could be neither a co-conspirator nor an accomplice to official misconduct because Vijande, who was central to the official misconduct alleged, was not a "public servant" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2. The trial court rejected that argument and, on appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed.

The Supreme Court granted Perez's petition for certification.

HELD: Because Perez's co-defendant, co-conspirator was performing governmental functions at the time of the conspiracy and was, therefore subject to the official misconduct statute, Perez was properly charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit official misconduct.

1. The sole purpose of N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2 is to prevent perversion of government authority. In furtherance of that goal, "public servant" is defined broadly for purposes of misconduct in office, as well as for other offenses against public administration, to encompass individuals who are authorized to perform a governmental function, regardless of whether they hold a position of public employment. Thus, one does not avoid the statute's reach just because one is not an employee of government so long as that individual is performing a governmental function. (Pp. 3-4)

2. Vijande, an employee of a private entity that contracted to serve as a State DMV agent, was not insulated from a charge of official misconduct. Rather, the important question is whether the person holding a position as head clerk at the North Bergen DMV is carrying out a governmental function. The courts below correctly concluded that Vijande's employment met the definition of "public servant." As Head Clerk, Vijande supervised and performed State governmental licensing and registration functions at the North Bergen DMV, which was, in essence, "the government" for such purposes in the North Bergen region. There is no ambiguity about the governmental nature of Vijande's authority as Head Clerk. (Pp. 4-6)

3. Vijande's perversion of the uniquely governmental authority that she exercised is what the official misconduct statute is designed to prevent. Therefore, Perez was properly charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit official misconduct with Vijande. (P. 6)

Judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, ALBIN, WALLACE and RIVERA-SOTO join in this opinion.

Per curiam.

Argued September 13, 2005

Defendant Luis Perez was charged in a multi-count indictment with taking part in a scheme to obtain fraudulent motor vehicle documents. Reserving his right to appeal, Perez entered a plea of guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 2C:30-2 (Count 1), as part of a plea agreement that called for dismissal of all other counts against him. Prior to entering his plea, Perez had moved to dismiss both the conspiracy count and a charge of accomplice to official misconduct (Count 2). Perez had argued that he could be neither a co-conspirator nor an accomplice to official misconduct because his co-defendant, who was central to the official misconduct alleged, was not a "public servant" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2. The trial court rejected Perez's argument and, ...


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