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State of New Jersey v. Eric Clemente Rangel A/K/A Hugo Olivares

April 29, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ERIC CLEMENTE RANGEL A/K/A HUGO OLIVARES, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 422 N.J. Super. 1 (2011).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Albin

SYLLABUS

(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 interest of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

State v. Eric Clemente Rangel

(A-88-11) (069204)

Argued January 14, 2013 --

Decided April 29, 2013

ALBIN, J., writing for a unanimous Court.

In this appeal, the Court considers whether the words "on another" in N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), as used in the phrase "aggravated assault on another," refers to the victim, a person other than the victim, or both.

After attacking and sexually assaulting victim P.F., defendant Eric Clemente Rangel was charged with various crimes including first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), and second-degree attempted aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1(a)(3) and 2C:14-2(a)(3). At the conclusion of the State's case, Rangel moved for a judgment of acquittal on the first-degree aggravated-sexual-assault charge, claiming that the State failed to show that he had committed an act of sexual penetration during an "aggravated assault on another" under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3). Defendant contended that the words "on another" referred to a person other than the victim. The trial court denied the motion, finding that "on another" refers "to acts upon the victim." The jury convicted defendant on all counts and he was sentenced. The Appellate Division reversed defendant's aggravated-sexual-assault conviction, concluding that the phrase "on another" refers to a third party. The panel entered judgments of acquittal on the convictions for first-degree aggravated sexual assault and second-degree attempted aggravated sexual assault, both of which were predicated on violations of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), and remanded for resentencing on all remaining counts. The Court granted the State's petition for certification. 209 N.J. 233 (2012).

HELD: Based on the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) and a textual reading of the statute as a whole, the phrase "on another" refers to someone other than the victim.

1. State v. Cole, 120 N.J. 321 (1990), and State v. Adams, 227 N.J. Super. 51 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 113 N.J. 642 (1988), which concern the doctrine of merger and did not consider the meaning of "on another" in N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), are not relevant to this case. (pp. 10-11)

2. The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to give effect to the Legislature's intent. The Court first looks at the statute's plain language, giving words their ordinary meaning. Words and phrases are viewed in their proper context and in relationship to other parts of a statute. The Court does not read one part of a statute in a way that would render another part redundant or absurd. If the statutory language is susceptible to more than one plausible interpretation, then the Court can turn to such extrinsic aids as legislative history. Turning to the relevant statutory language, under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), a defendant is guilty of first-degree "aggravated sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration . . . during the commission, or attempted commission, . . . of robbery, kidnapping, homicide, aggravated assault on another, burglary, arson or criminal escape." The interpretation of whether "another" refers to the victim, a third person, or both, requires an analysis not only of the word, but the surrounding provisions and the Legislature's objectives. (pp. 11-14)

3. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(c)(1), sexual assault occurs when a defendant "commits an act of sexual penetration" and "uses physical force or coercion, but the victim does not sustain severe personal injury." Under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(6), aggravated sexual assault occurs when a defendant "commits an act of sexual penetration" and "uses physical force or coercion and severe personal injury is sustained by the victim." In this context, what elevates sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault is "severe personal injury" to the victim. If the "aggravated assault on another" in N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) refers to the victim, not a third party, then the "severe personal injury" to the victim referred to in (a)(6), which is a predicate for an aggravated-sexual-assault conviction, is read out of the statute. That is because the commission of "aggravated assault" in (a)(3) only requires an attempt to cause significant bodily injury. N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b). It is difficult to imagine why the Legislature would require "severe personal injury" to the victim in (a)(6), to elevate sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault, if the attempt to cause significant bodily injury to the victim in (a)(3), which results in no injury, elevates sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault. (pp. 14-16)

4. Reading the various parts of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2 so that none are rendered meaningless, one sensible reading is that the "severe personal injury" provision of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(6) is intended to punish the enhanced violence committed against the victim, whereas the "aggravated assault on another" provision of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) is intended to punish the accompanying violence against a third person that is used as a means to render more vulnerable or exert control over the sexual assault victim. In addition, of the seven predicate offenses in (a)(3) that elevate sexual assault to a first-degree offense, only aggravated assault is modified by the term "on another." If "on another" refers to the victim, it is difficult to comprehend the Legislature's purpose in not using the term for such predicate crimes as kidnapping, robbery or burglary in (a)(3). The most plausible explanation is that, having addressed an aggravated assault on the victim in (a)(6), the Legislature intended to refer to an aggravated assault on a third party by using the word "another" in (a)(3). Furthermore, the Legislature repeatedly used the word "victim" to denote the target of an aggravated sexual assault throughout N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a) and of a sexual assault throughout N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b) and (c). The Legislature knew how to use the word "victim" to make the precise point it intended to convey. The text of the statute does not suggest that the Legislature intended to equate the term "another" with "victim" in (a)(3). (pp. 16-20)

5. A review of the legislative history neither adds nor detracts from the Court's plain reading and textual analysis of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a). Furthermore, if there were ambiguity in the statutory provisions that the Court has analyzed, it would be guided by the doctrine of lenity, which holds that ambiguities in a criminal statute that cannot be resolved by the statute's text or extrinsic aids must be resolved in the defendant's favor. The Court, however, need not rely on the doctrine of lenity because a plain reading of the contested statutory language, when viewed in its proper context and in light of the Legislature's objectives, leaves no ambiguity. (pp. 20-23)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED, and defendant will be resentenced on all remaining convictions, including the second-degree sexual-assault and aggravated-assault convictions. This matter is REMANDED to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER; JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, HOENS, and PATTERSON; and JUDGE CUFF (temporarily assigned) join in JUSTICE ALBIN's opinion.

Argued January 14, 2013 --

JUSTICE ALBIN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case of first impression, we must determine whether defendant Eric Rangel was properly convicted of aggravated sexual assault under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3).

A defendant is guilty of first-degree "aggravated sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration . . . [and] uses physical force or coercion and severe personal injury is sustained by the victim." N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(6) (emphasis added). A defendant is also guilty of first-degree aggravated sexual assault if the act of penetration occurs "during the commission, or attempted commission, . . . [of] aggravated assault on another." N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) (emphasis added). The issue before us is whether the language in (a)(3), "on another," refers to the victim, a person other than the victim, or both. The trial court denied defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal, finding that (a)(3) includes aggravated assault on the victim. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that (a)(3) excludes the victim.

We conclude that, based on the statute's plain language and a textual reading of the statute as a whole, the phrase "on another" refers to someone other than the victim. A contrary interpretation would mean that, under (a)(3), an attempt to commit significant bodily injury to the victim, although no injury was caused, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(7), would elevate sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault. That interpretation would render a nullity the requirement under (a)(6) that the State prove the victim sustained "severe personal injury" for an aggravated-sexual-assault conviction. Moreover, the Legislature refers repeatedly to "victim" throughout N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a),

(b), and (c) when identifying the target of the sexual assault. We are not persuaded that the Legislature intended to speak elliptically about a victim as "another" in (a)(3) but specifically about "victim" in so many other provisions of the statute.

We affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division. We do not disturb defendant's other convictions for sexual assault, aggravated assault, and obstructing the administration of justice. We remand for resentencing on those convictions.

I.

A.

A Morris County grand jury charged defendant in an indictment with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3); second-degree attempted aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1(a)(3) and 2C:14-2(a)(3); second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(c)(1); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); and fourth-degree obstructing the administration of ...


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