State v. Valentin

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the CourtGARIBALDI; CLIFFORD
Citation105 N.J. 14,519 A.2d 322
Decision Date13 January 1987
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Denny VALENTIN, Defendant-Respondent.

Page 14

105 N.J. 14
519 A.2d 322
STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Denny VALENTIN, Defendant-Respondent.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued Sept. 22, 1986.
Decided Jan. 13, 1987.

Page 15

Jeffrey L. Menkin, Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellant (W. Cary Edwards, Atty. Gen. of New Jersey, attorney).

Morton L. Anekstein, Asst. Deputy Public Defender, for respondent (Alfred A. Slocum, Public Defender, attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

GARIBALDI, Justice.

This appeal concerns the interpretation of the word "volunteers" in N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Specifically, we must decide whether a defendant who in response to a law-enforcement officer's inquiry gives a false name thereby violates N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4), which proscribes "volunteer[ing] false information to a law enforcement officer."

I

This case arises in the context of a motor vehicle stop. On April 9, 1985, a state trooper stopped a car driven by defendant, Denny Valentin, for a routine motor vehicle violation. The car was registered to Dollar-Rent-A-Car of Florida. The company had reported the car stolen by Valentin, the lessee, after he failed to return the vehicle. The company was seeking to prosecute the defendant.

When Valentin was stopped, the state trooper asked for his name, and he replied "Ramon Velez." The trooper then issued

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a motor vehicle summons and released Valentin. [519 A.2d 323] Shortly thereafter the same trooper stopped Valentin for another motor vehicle infraction. This time Valentin gave his own name. The trooper however remembered that Valentin had given a different name on the prior occasion. Hence he was prosecuted on two counts: receiving stolen property in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7; and hindering his own apprehension by "volunteering" the name of Velez on the first occasion in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4).

Defendant filed a motion in the trial court to dismiss count two of the indictment. The motion asserted that because defendant merely responded to the officer's questions, he did not "volunteer" false information within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Specifically, defendant argues that the statute in question prohibits taking the initiative in providing false information to law-enforcement officials, not merely responding to an inquiry. The State asserts that this interpretation is too narrow and that the word "volunteer" includes practically any deliberate advance of information not technically required by law, whether or not made in response to a law-enforcement officer's inquiry. 1

The trial court found that "[o]ne who is questioned by an armed law enforcement officer, has not 'taken the initiative' and affirmatively volunteered information but has merely responded to police questioning." Accordingly, he granted defendant's motion to dismiss. The Appellate Division affirmed, similarly concluding that "to be guilty under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4), the actor must take the initiative in providing the false information. He cannot be culpable if he responds falsely to a question by a law enforcement officer." State v. Valentin, 208 N.J.Super. 536, 540, 506 A.2d 748 (1986).

Page 17

The majority of the Appellate Division expressly overruled State v. Alexander, 198 N.J.Super. 594, 487 A.2d 1299 (Law Div. 1984), certif. den., 102 N.J. 303, 508 A.2d 189 (1985), which had held that one "volunteers" information when responding to police-initiated inquiries. Instead, the majority followed State v. D'Addario, 196 N.J.Super. 392, 396, 482 A.2d 961 (Law Div. 1984), which held that to be culpable the actor must take the initiative in giving false information or must offer to give it without solicitation.

In his concurring opinion, Judge Shebell did not agree with the majority that the legislature had intended such a limited scope for N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Nevertheless, he concurred in the judgment because he concluded that the legislators "ha[d] not enacted their intention with sufficient clarity to allow application of the statute to any persons other than those 'who take the initiative in throwing the police off the track.' " 208 N.J.Super. at 541, 506 A.2d 748. Pursuant to Rule 2:2-2(b) and Rule 2:5-6(a), we granted the State's motion for leave to appeal the judgment of the Appellate Division, 104 N.J. 372, 517 A.2d 383 (1986), and now affirm.

II

N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4) provides:

b. A person commits an offense if, with purpose to hinder his own apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment, he:

* * *

* * *

(4) Volunteers false information to a law enforcement officer.

Our most rudimentary guide in this case is the doctrine that penal statutes must be strictly construed. In re Suspension of DeMarco, 83 N.J. 25, 36, 414 A.2d 1339 (1980); State v. Carbone, 38 N.J. 19, 24, 183 A.2d 1 (1962); State v. Gantt, 101 N.J. 573, 592, 503 A.2d 849 (1986) (Handler, J., concurring); 3 Sands Sutherland, Statutory[519 A.2d 324] Construction p 59.03 at 6-7 (4th ed. 1974).

"The rule that penal statutes are to be strictly construed has at its heart the requirement of due process. No one shall be

Page 18

punished for a crime unless both that crime and its punishment are clearly set forth in positive laws." In re Suspension of DeMarco, supra, 83 N.J. at 36, 414 A.2d 1339. Penal statutes must be sufficiently definite so that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited. Town Tobacconist v. Kimmelman, 94 N.J. 85, 118, 462 A.2d 573 (1983). As the United States Supreme Court stated in Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298-99, 33 L.Ed.2d 222, 227-28 (1972):

Vague laws offend several important values. First, because we assume that man is free to steer between lawful and unlawful conduct, we insist that laws give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited so that he may act accordingly. Vague laws may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning. Second, if arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is to be prevented, laws must provide explicit standards for those who apply them.

Penal laws cannot be extended by implication or intendment. Where more than one reasonable interpretation may be made, or where the language is ambiguous--and the ambiguity is not manufactured by the defendant--the construction must be drawn against the state. State v. Carbone, supra, 38 N.J. at 23-24, 183 A.2d 1; Sutherland, supra, p 59.03 at 6-7.

With these principles in mind, we focus our inquiry in this case on the meaning an ordinary citizen would ascribe to the word "volunteer" in N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4). Certainly one "volunteers" information when he "blurts it out" or otherwise advances it without prompting. However, most people do not believe that one "volunteers" responses to a law-enforcement officer's inquiry. See, e.g., The Random House Dictionary of the English Language 1600 (9th ed. 1983) (defining volunteer: "to offer [oneself or one's services] for some undertaking or purpose[;] ... to give, bestow, or perform without being asked ..."). In this case, the State reasons that because a person has a constitutional right to refuse to answer inquiries by law-enforcement officials, any responses to such inquiries are consensual and, therefore, "volunteered." We disagree.

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Although the defendant was not constitutionally or statutorily compelled to answer the state trooper, an ordinary person stopped for a motor vehicle violation does not think he is "volunteering" answers to a law-enforcement officer's inquiries. Few persons under such circumstances think that they can refuse to answer. On the contrary, most believe that failure to respond will only...

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45 practice notes
  • State v. Tischio
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • June 30, 1987
    ...painful frequency, that language so transpicuous to me means something entirely different to my colleagues, see, e.g., State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 519 A.2d 322 (1987) (criminal statute); In re Perez, 104 N.J. 316, 517 A.2d 123 (1986) (affidavit); Meier v. New Jersey Life Ins. Co., 101 N......
  • State v. Chew
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • June 26, 1997
    ...to construe ambiguous language against the State." State v. Galloway, 133 N.J. 631, 658-59, 628 A.2d 735 (1993) (citing State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 17, 519 A.2d 322 (1987), and State v. Carbone, 38 N.J. 19, 23-24, 183 A.2d 1 (1962)). That rule of strict construction "means that a statut......
  • State v. Churchdale Leasing, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • April 10, 1989
    ...penal statutes that are open to more than one reasonable construction must be construed strictly against the State, State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 18, 519 A.2d 322 (1987); State v. Wooten, 73 N.J. 317, 326, 374 A.2d 1204 At the heart of the rule requiring strict construction of criminal st......
  • Moore v. Youth Correctional Institute at Annandale
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • January 30, 1989
    ...penal statutes are strictly construed provides further support for a strict interpretation of N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2a. See State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 17, 519 A.2d 322 A strict construction of N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2a(2) requires that its application be limited to circumstances where either the offe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • State v. Tischio
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • June 30, 1987
    ...painful frequency, that language so transpicuous to me means something entirely different to my colleagues, see, e.g., State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 519 A.2d 322 (1987) (criminal statute); In re Perez, 104 N.J. 316, 517 A.2d 123 (1986) (affidavit); Meier v. New Jersey Life Ins. Co., 101 N......
  • State v. Chew
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • June 26, 1997
    ...to construe ambiguous language against the State." State v. Galloway, 133 N.J. 631, 658-59, 628 A.2d 735 (1993) (citing State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 17, 519 A.2d 322 (1987), and State v. Carbone, 38 N.J. 19, 23-24, 183 A.2d 1 (1962)). That rule of strict construction "means that a statut......
  • State v. Churchdale Leasing, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • April 10, 1989
    ...penal statutes that are open to more than one reasonable construction must be construed strictly against the State, State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 18, 519 A.2d 322 (1987); State v. Wooten, 73 N.J. 317, 326, 374 A.2d 1204 At the heart of the rule requiring strict construction of criminal st......
  • Moore v. Youth Correctional Institute at Annandale
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • January 30, 1989
    ...penal statutes are strictly construed provides further support for a strict interpretation of N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2a. See State v. Valentin, 105 N.J. 14, 17, 519 A.2d 322 A strict construction of N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2a(2) requires that its application be limited to circumstances where either the offe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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