State v. Scudieri

Decision Date01 November 2021
Docket NumberDOCKET NO. A-0352-20
Citation469 N.J.Super. 507,266 A.3d 420
Parties STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Anthony SCUDIERI, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division

Leckerman Law, LLC, attorneys for appellant; (Kevin M. Leckerman, of counsel and on the brief).

Lori Linskey, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent; (Melinda A. Harrigan, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Sabatino, Mayer and Natali.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

NATALI, J.A.D.

On August 30, 2019, the Sea Girt police arrested defendant for multiple motor vehicle violations, including driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, and refusal to submit to testing, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a. He pled guilty to the refusal violation and the State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges.

In its January 22, 2020 sentence, the municipal court suspended defendant's driving privileges for seven months, consistent with mandatory penalties associated with the refusal statute in effect at the time of his arrest. The court also required him to pay all applicable fines and penalties, complete twelve hours of rehabilitation at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, and install an ignition interlock device for six months after restoration of his driving privileges. After a trial de novo, Judge Marc C. LeMieux entered an August 25, 2020 order accompanied by a written opinion, affirming defendant's conviction and sentence, and staying the court's decision pending appeal.

Before us, defendant challenges solely his sentence, contending, as he did in the municipal court and Law Division, that those courts committed error when they failed to apply the refusal statute in effect at the time of his sentence. That statute required only suspension of his driving privileges until installation of an ignition interlock device, rather than the more punitive penalty of an automatic seven-month suspension of his driving privileges required under the previous statute.

To provide context for our opinion, we begin with a brief discussion of relevant provisions of the prior and current refusal statutes. On August 23, 2019, Governor Philip Murphy signed a bill that, in part, amended the penalties associated with a refusal conviction. The legislation expressly provided that the "act shall take effect on the first day of the fourth month after enactment and shall apply to any offense occurring on or after that date." L. 2019, c. 248, § 7. Consequently, the amendment became effective on December 1, 2019, and applied only to offenses committed on that date or subsequent, and not before.

Before December 1, 2019, a defendant convicted of a first offense for refusing to submit to testing forfeited his license for seven months, in addition to other statutory penalties. See L. 2009, c. 201, § 5 ("[T]he municipal court shall revoke the right to operate a motor vehicle of any operator who, after being arrested for a violation of [N.J.S.A.] 39:4-50, shall refuse to submit to a test ... when requested to do so, for not less than seven months or more than one year."). In passing the amended statute, however, the Legislature determined that the installation of ignition interlock devices was a more effective way to prevent drunk driving than license suspension. The amended statute therefore struck the seven-month license suspension provision and required instead all defendants convicted of refusal to install an ignition interlock device. L. 2019, c. 248, § 3 (effective December 1, 2019) (The offender forfeits "the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State until the person installs an ignition interlock device in one motor vehicle the person owns, leases, or principally operates, whichever the person most often operates.").

In his written opinion, Judge LeMieux rejected defendant's argument that the amended refusal statute should apply retroactively and determined that the Legislature's pronouncement that the amended law applied only to offenses that occur on or after December 1, 2019 expressed its clear intent that the legislation was to apply prospectively. As defendant committed his offense on August 30, 2019, the judge concluded the amended law simply did not apply when defendant was sentenced.

Judge LeMieux explained the new amendment was "not aimed at mitigating a severe penalty," but rather effectuated the legislative finding that ignition devices more effectively deterred drunk driving. He also concluded defendant could not have reasonably expected the legislative amendment to apply to his offense.

The judge observed that sentencing defendant under the prior refusal statute appeared to be "inconsistent" with our decisions in State in Interest of J.F., 446 N.J. Super. 39, 140 A.3d 564 (App. Div. 2016), and State in Interest of C.F., 444 N.J. Super. 179, 132 A.3d 426 (App. Div. 2016), interpreting the savings clause, N.J.S.A. 1:1-15. Judge LeMieux nevertheless applied the prior refusal statute because "the Legislature's intent [was] clear on its face." Finally, the judge rejected defendant's reliance on State v. Smith, 58 N.J. 202, 276 A.2d 369 (1971), concluding "it would not be unjust to sentence [defendant] pursuant to the laws that were in place at the time that he committed this offense."

Before us, defendant raises the following two points for our consideration:

I. THE AMENDED REFUSAL AND DWI LAWS FUNCTION AS BOTH CURATIVE AND AMELIORATIVE LEGISLATION AND THEREFORE MUST BE GIVEN PIPELINE RETROACTIVITY TO THIS MATTER BECAUSE THE CONVICTION AND SENTENCING OCCURRED AFTER THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE LAWS.
II. THE NEW REFUSAL LAW SHOULD APPLY IN THIS MATTER TO PREVENT AN UNJUST RESULT.

We reject both arguments and affirm. When it amended N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a, the Legislature clearly stated that the new legislation would become effective over four months after it was signed into law and apply only to the class of defendants who committed offenses on or after December 1, 2019. That decision by the Legislature represented its unequivocal intent to apply the new statute prospectively, and therefore the common law exceptions to the presumption of prospective application do not apply. Further, because the Legislature amended the refusal statute to effectuate its determination that interlock devices served as a greater deterrent to drunk driving than a period of license forfeiture, any ameliorative or curative nature of the statute does not warrant retroactive effect.

I.

Whether Judge LeMieux correctly concluded that the amended refusal statute was not entitled to retroactive effect "is a purely legal question of statutory interpretation" based on legislative intent. As such, we apply a de novo standard of review. Toll Bros. v. Twp. of W. Windsor, 173 N.J. 502, 549, 803 A.2d 53 (2002).

We are convinced that the application of well-settled principles of statutory construction correctly resolve the issue before us. In that regard, we begin with the oft-cited proposition that "courts favor prospective application of statutes." Twiss v. State, Dep't of Treasury, Off. of Fin. Mgmt., 124 N.J. 461, 466–67, 591 A.2d 913 (1991) (citing Gibbons v. Gibbons, 86 N.J. 515, 521, 432 A.2d 80 (1981) ). This is so, in part, because " ‘retroactive application of new laws involves a high risk of being unfair’ " and may implicate due process rights. State v. J.V., 242 N.J. 432, 443, 231 A.3d 710 (2020) (quoting Gibbons, 86 N.J. at 522, 432 A.2d 80 ); Twiss, 124 N.J. at 466–67, 591 A.2d 913.

The presumption of prospectivity is but a rule of statutory interpretation, requiring "a search for legislative intent," as well as a reading of the language for its "ordinary or plain meaning." Twiss, 124 N.J. at 467, 471, 591 A.2d 913 ; Rothman v. Rothman, 65 N.J. 219, 224, 320 A.2d 496 (1974). That presumption can be overcome by indication of contrary legislative intent, either expressed in the language of the statute itself, or implied in its purpose. State v. Bey, 112 N.J. 45, 103, 548 A.2d 846 (1988).

We first review the statute's plain language, which is the "best indicator" of legislative intent. State v. Rodriguez, 238 N.J. 105, 113, 207 A.3d 1269 (2019). Statutory language "must be construed ‘in context with related provisions so as to give sense to the legislation as a whole.’ " Ibid. (quoting Spade v. Select Comfort Corp., 232 N.J. 504, 515, 181 A.3d 969 (2018) ). "Unless it is ‘inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature,’ or ‘another or different meaning is expressly indicated,’ we ascribe to the Legislature's words and phrases ‘their generally accepted meaning, according to the approved usage of the language.’ "

Finkelman v. Nat'l Football League, 236 N.J. 280, 289, 199 A.3d 754 (2019) (quoting N.J.S.A. 1:1–1 ).

Thus, if the language of the statute clearly reflects the Legislature's intent, then the court applies the law as written, affording the terms their plain meaning. J.V., 242 N.J. at 442, 231 A.3d 710. If the language is ambiguous, "we may resort to ‘extrinsic interpretative aids, including legislative history,’ to determine the statute's meaning." Ibid. (quoting State v. S.B., 230 N.J. 62, 68, 165 A.3d 722 (2017) ).

When appropriate, and to avoid an unfair and "mechanistic" approach to a retroactivity analysis, see Gibbons, 86 N.J. at 522, 432 A.2d 80, we consider two questions to assist "in the determination whether a court should apply a statute retroactively." Twiss, 124 N.J. at 467, 591 A.2d 913. The first question asks "whether the Legislature intended to give the statute retroactive application." Twiss, 124 N.J. at 467, 591 A.2d 913. "If so, the second question is whether retroactive application is an unconstitutional interference with ‘vested rights’ or will result in a ‘manifest injustice.’ " Ibid. (internal citations omitted). "Both questions must be satisfied for a statute to be applied retroactively."...

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    ...scheme cover only conduct occurring after their effective date of December 1, 2019. See 2019 Act § 7; State v. Scudieri, 469 N.J. Super. 507, 516-25, 266 A.3d 420 (App. Div. 2021) (analyzing the 2019 Act's text, the legislative intent, and inappropriateness of retroactive application of its......
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    ...IID statutory scheme cover only conduct occurring after their effective date of December 1, 2019. See 2019 Act § 7; State v. Scudieri, 469 N.J.Super. 507, 516-25 (App. Div. 2021) (analyzing the 2019 Act's text, the legislative intent, and inappropriateness of retroactive application of its ......

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