State v. Taylor

Decision Date09 November 1972
Citation121 N.J.Super. 395,297 A.2d 216
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff, v. Robert B. TAYLOR, III, Defendant.
CourtNew Jersey District Court

Theodore Carron, Asst. Prosecutor, for plaintiff.

Louis J. Dinice, Hackensack, for defendant.


This is a complaint charging defendant with violating N.J.S.A. 2A:170--29(2) (b).

On August 1, 1972, at about 2 P.M., defendant Robert B. Taylor, III was observed by police officers to be standing on Shaler Boulevard, Ridgefield, New Jersey and holding a yellow cardboard sign on which the words 'RADAR AHEAD' were plainly visible. Upon these facts defendant was subsequently arrested and charged as a disorderly person in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170--29(2)(b). The pertinent section of that statute reads as follows:

2. Any person who in any place, public or private,

b. Obstructs, molests or interferes with any person lawfully therein; or

Is a disorderly person.

It is alleged that defendant, in the act of displaying the above-described sign, is a disorderly person in that he obstructed and interfered with the right of motorists who were driving on Shaler Boulevard at that time, and the right of the police officers to control, through the operation of radar equipment, the rate of speed of motorists driving on Shaler Boulevard. The issue to be resolved by this court, therefore, is whether or not the act of holding a sign stating 'RADAR AHEAD,' while standing in the field of vision of passing motorists, should be construed as a disorderly act within the purview of the statutory language expressed in N.J.S.A. 2A 170--29(2)(b).

' Disorderly conduct' is not an offense known to common law. Convictions for acts constituting disorderly conduct must be for some offense prohibited by statute. State v. Labato, 7 N.J. 137, 80 A.2d 617 (1953); Breisia v. Court of Common Pleas, Hudson County, 11 N.J.Misc. 937, 169 A. 335 (Sup.Ct.1933). Statutory offenses are characterized as being either Mala in se or Mala prohibita. An act is Malum in se if it is inherently and essentially wrong and injurious. Those acts which do not fall within the category of Mala in se but which are proscribed by the Legislature, such as the statute involved in the instant case, are Mala prohibita: it is not the nature of the act that renders it wrong, but rather the fact that its commission is expressly forbidden by law. Since the illegality of a Malum prohibitum act results from positive law, it becomes naturally incumbent upon the courts to construe the statute proscribing the act in conformance with legislative intent and to avoid those constructions which render any part of the statute superfluous. State v. Wean, 86 N.J.Super. 283, 206 A.2d 765 (App.Div.1965); State v. Rullis, 79 N.J.Super. 221, 191 A.2d 197 (App.Div.1963). Case law construing the Disorderly Persons Act has indeed been solicitous of the intent of the Legislature and supportive of the position that such intent is to be discerned from the language of the statute; hence the condemned act must be plainly and unmistakably within the penal statute and not within an arbitrary expansion of the scope of the statute. State v. Leonardo, 109 N.J.Super. 442, 263 A.2d 725 (App.Div.1970); State v. Wenof, 102 N.J.Super. 370, 246 A.2d 59 (App.Div.1968); State v. Smith, 46 N.J. 510, 218 A.2d 147 (1966); State v. Gibson, 92 N.J.Super. 397, 400, 223 A.2d 638 (App.Div.1966); State v. Wean, Supra, State v. Rullis, Supra, State v. Caez, 81 N.J.Super. 315, 195 A.2d 496 (App.Div.1963); Neeld v. Giroux, 24 N.J. 224, 229, 131 A.2d 508 (1952); Halsted v. State, 41 N.J.L. 552, 597 (E. & A. 1899).

With these precepts in mind, we now turn to an examination of the statute in question. It is indisputable that the protection of the statute does extend to prolice officers who were controlling the rate of speed of motorists on Shaler Boulevard. Cf. State v. Furino, 85 N.J.Super. 345, 204 A.2d 718 (App.Div.1964). What is questionable is whether or not defendant, by the act of displaying the sign in question, did 'obstruct' or 'interfere' with these police officers and the motorists on Shaler Boulevard.

Black's Law Dictionary (4th ed. 1968) defines 'obstruct' as to hinder or prevent from progress, check, stop, also to retard the progress of, or make accomplishment of difficult and slow; and the word 'interfere' as to check, hamper, hinder, disturb, intervene, intermeddle, interpose, enter into, or take part in the concerns of others. 'Molest' means to disturb, interfere with, or annoy; inconvenience. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1st ed. 1969, 1970).

This court finds no merit in the allegation that defendant did 'obstruct' or 'interfere' with motorists who were driving on Shaler Boulevard. The motorists who were driving on Shaler Boulevard at the time defendant was holding the sign in question were not inconvenienced in any way. Their driving was not 'obstructed' by defendant, since he was standing on the side of the road, and the legend on defendant's sign certainly did not 'interfere' with their driving. Upon observing the sign motorists had the election to either disregard it or to release the pressure on the gas pedal in attention to defendant's purported warning. It is true that defendant could be construed to 'interfere' with the police officers because the message on defendant's sign intermeddled with the concern of the police to discover and apprehend violators of the traffic speed limit. Practical considerations, however, indicate that a conviction resting squarely on a literal definition is not only unsound but also capable of bizarre ramifications. Could we not then conclude that the act of a citizen in alerting the police to a speeding violator is also an 'interference'? Should any act which frustrates the performance of a police officer's duties be considered an 'interference'? We cannot allow one definition of one of three verbs used in the statute to detract from the semantic content of the statute as a whole. This court does not deny the well-established rule of statutory construction that penal statutes are to be strictly construed, State v. J.M., 110 N.J.Super. 337, 265 A.2d 553 (App.Div.1970); State v. Leonardo, Supra, State v. Fair Lawn Service Center, 20 N.J. 468, 120 A.2d 233 (1956); State v. McCall, 27 N.J.Super. 157, 99 A.2d 153 (App.Div.1953), vac. 14 N.J. 538, 103 A.2d 376 (1958); State v. Morrison, 25 N.J.Super. 534, 96 A.2d 723 (App.Div.1953); State v. Perretti, 9 N.J.Super. 97, 75 A.2d 151 (App.Div.1950); State v. Carr, 118 N.J.L. 233, 192 A. 36 (E. & A. 1937) but takes note of the equally well-established rule of law that no rule of strict construction may be used to torture the language of a penal statute beyond its clear meaning and implication. State v. Carbone, 38 N.J. 19, 183 A.2d 1 (1962); State v. Provenzano, 34 N.J. 318, 169 A.2d 135 (1961); State v. McCall, Supra; State v. Meinken, 10 N.J. 348, 91 A.2d 721 (1953); State v. Brenner, 132 N.J.L. 607, 41 A.2d 532 (E. & A.1945); State v. Hand, 71 N.J.L. 137, 58 A. 641 (Sup.Ct.1904); Stricker v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 60 N.J.L. 230, 37 A. 776 (Sup.Ct.1897).

By using the word 'interfere' with the physical implicating words of 'molest' and 'obstruct,' it seems clear that the intent of the Legislature was to proscribe that type of conduct which has a direct, tangible and physical impact. Consequently, this court cannot entertain the supposition that the intent of the Legislature, as reflected by the statutory language of N.J.S.A. 2A:170--29(2)(b), would encompass the type of activity engaged in by the defendant. In State v. Furino, Supra, the court held that evidence that defendant had attempted to interfere with the arrest of a companion by shouting obscenities at police officers and punching them in the chest sustained a conviction for obstructing and interfering with police officers in a public place, and stated We conclude that the elements of an offense proscribed...

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5 cases
  • State v. Lashinsky
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • July 23, 1979
    ...State v. Smith, 46 N.J. 510, 520, 218 A.2d 147, Cert. Den. 385 U.S. 838, 87 S.Ct. 85, 17 L.Ed.2d 71 (1966); State v. Taylor, 121 N.J.Super. 395, 398, 297 A.2d 216 (Cty.Dist.Ct.1972). A number of cases have held that interference does not require actual or total physical frustration, State v......
  • State v. Ramos
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • June 27, 2013
    ...nature is not intrinsically wrong, except for “the fact that its commission is expressly forbidden by law.” State v. Taylor, 121 N.J.Super. 395, 297 A.2d 216, 217 (N.J.Dist.Ct.1972). This is not a crime malum in se—or a crime exhibiting an “evil mind,” such as an inherently immoral act like......
  • State v. Manning
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division
    • January 28, 1977
    ...L.Ed.2d 71 (1966); State v. Guillotte, 10 N.J.Super. 502, 77 A.2d 65 (Cty.Ct.1950)) none of them, except perhaps State v. Taylor, 121 N.J.Super. 395, 297 A.2d 216 (Cty.Ct.1972), Hold that the statute is applicable only where there is conduct which impedes another's physical' movement or 'wh......
  • State v. Doss
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division
    • February 19, 1992 individual toward whom such instructions are directed has a correlative duty to obey them." See also State v. Taylor, 121 N.J.Super. 395, 297 A.2d 216 (Cty.Dist.Ct.1972). When defendant continued his flight from the pursuing police officers despite their shouted orders to halt, his refus......
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