NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-0452-16T4
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
July 13, 2018
PEDRO C. ANICAMA,
Argued December 19, 2017 – Decided July 13, 2018
Before Judges Yannotti, Carroll, and Leone.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey,
Law Division, Hudson County, Municipal Appeal
Anthony R. Draucikas argued the cause for
appellant (The Draucikas Law Firm, LLC,
attorneys; Anthony R. Draucikas, on the
Stephanie Davis Elson, Assistant Prosecutor,
argued the cause for respondent (Esther
Suarez, Hudson County Prosecutor, attorney;
Frances Tapia Mateo, Assistant Prosecutor, on
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Defendant Pedro C. Anicama appeals from the Law Division's
August 16, 2016 order. He received the mandatory 180-day sentence
for his third or subsequent conviction for driving while
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3). The Municipal Court
allowed him to serve his sentence by being in jail only two days
a week, a form of periodic service. The Law Division reversed.
Despite prior decisions by this court, it is apparently "not
entirely clear whether a third or subsequent offender's mandatory
prison term may be served on a periodic basis." Richmond & Burns,
Municipal Court Practice § 29:3-3 (2017) (citing State v.
388 N.J. Super. 431 (Law Div. 2006)). We disapprove
Grabowski and hold that a third or subsequent DWI offender is
ineligible for periodic service of the mandatory 180-day sentence.
Accordingly, we affirm the Law Division.
In his guilty plea colloquy, defendant admitted the following
facts. On the evening of May 10, 2015, he consumed beer and a
shot of scotch whiskey. The alcohol affected his ability to drive.
As a result, defendant hit a parked car in the Town of Harrison
and continued driving. He drove into the Borough of East Newark,
and hit another parked car, and again kept driving to his house.
When he parked at his home, police officers approached and arrested
him. The officers found cocaine and a half-empty bottle of scotch
whiskey in defendant's car. Defendant had three prior convictions
for DWI, and a prior conviction for controlled substances.
Defendant was charged in East Newark with DWI; third-degree
possession of a controlled dangerous substance; leaving the scene
of an accident; failing to report an accident; reckless driving;
careless driving; and having an open container of alcohol in a
vehicle. He was charged in Harrison with leaving the scene of an
accident. The charges were consolidated in the East Newark
On March 10, 2016, defendant pled guilty in the Municipal
Court to a third or subsequent DWI violation,
50(a)(3); disorderly-persons possession of drug paraphernalia,
N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2; leaving the scene of an accident,
129(d); and careless driving,
N.J.S.A. 39:4-97. Pursuant to the
plea agreement, the other charges were dismissed, and he was
sentenced to ten years' loss of driving privileges and 180 days
of incarceration for the DWI charge, a suspended 180-day jail
sentence and one year of probation for the paraphernalia offense,
plus fines and other monetary assessments for those offenses, for
leaving the scene, and for careless driving.
Defendant requested that the 180 days in jail for his DWI
offense be served two days per week. He claimed serving his
sentence continuously would result in the loss of his restaurant
business. The Municipal Court found it had authority to allow
such periodic service under
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-22. The judge ordered
defendant to serve the 180 days "at a rate of not less than two
consecutive days per week," with his "work schedule to be
accommodated to the extent possible." Defendant began serving his
sentence on Mondays and Tuesdays only.
The State appealed the "illegal sentence" on the DWI offense.
After hearing argument, the Law Division issued a written opinion
on August 26, 2016, reversing the Municipal Court. The Law
Division ruled "[d]efendant's argument that periodic service is
permissible pursuant to
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3) is without merit,"
and ordered defendant to surrender and serve the remainder of his
sentence on consecutive days. Defendant appeals.1
Defendant raises an issue of statutory interpretation.
"'[B]ecause statutory interpretation involves the examination of
legal issues,'" we apply "'a de novo standard of review applies.'"
State v. Nance,
228 N.J. 378, 393 (2017) (citation omitted). We
must hew to that standard of review.
A court's responsibility "is to give effect
to the intent of the Legislature." To do so,
we start with the plain language of the
statute. If it clearly reveals the
Legislature's intent, the inquiry is over. If
a law is ambiguous, we may consider extrinsic
sources including legislative history. We
also look to extrinsic aids if a literal
We have been told defendant's service of the remainder of his
sentence has been stayed.
reading of the law would lead to absurd
[State v. Harper,
229 N.J. 228, 237 (2017)
The general statutes governing Municipal Courts provide that
"[a] court may order that a sentence of imprisonment be served
periodically on particular days, rather than consecutively. The
person imprisoned shall be given credit for each day or fraction
of a day to the nearest hour actually served."
22. The issue is whether this general statute applies to
defendants convicted of third or subsequent DWI violations under
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3). To decide this issue, we must review the
changes regarding the jail term for third or subsequent DWI
offenses made effective January 20, 2004 by "Michael's Law," L.
2003, c. 315.2
Michael's Law made the following pertinent amendments to the
existing statutes, with the additions and [deletions]. First,
Michael's Law amended N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3):
For a third or subsequent violation, a person
. . . shall be sentenced to imprisonment for
a term of not less than 180 days in a county
jail or workhouse, except that the court may
lower such term for each day, not exceeding
Contrary to defendant's argument, Michael's Law was enacted after
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-22 was adopted in L. 1993, c.
292, § 1, and became effective on February 15, 1994.
90 days, served [performing community service
in such form and on such terms as the court
shall deem appropriate under the
circumstances] participating in a drug or
alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program
. . .
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3) (1993) & (2018).]
Second, Michael's Law amended an unnumbered paragraph of
A court that imposes a term of imprisonment
for a first or second offense under this
section may sentence the person so convicted
to the county jail, to the workhouse of the
county wherein the offense was committed, to
an inpatient rehabilitation program or to an
Intoxicated Driver Resource Center or other
facility . . . .
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) (1993) & (2018).]
Finally, Michael's Law amended N.J.S.A. 39:4-51:
A person who has been convicted of [violating]
a first or second violation of section 39:4-
50 of this Title, and in pursuance thereof has
been imprisoned in a county jail or workhouse
in the county in which the offense was
committed, shall not, after commitment, be
released therefrom until the term of
imprisonment imposed has been served. A
person imprisoned in the county jail or
workhouse may in the discretion of the court,
be released on a work release program.
No warden or other officer having custody of
the county jail or workhouse shall release
therefrom a person so committed, unless the
person has been released by the court on a
work release program, until the sentence has
been served. A person sentenced to an
inpatient rehabilitation program may upon
petition by the treating agency be released,
by the court, to an outpatient rehabilitation
program for the duration of the original
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 (1977) & (2018).]
Defendant argues that, unlike persons convicted of "a first
or second" DWI violation, persons convicted of third or subsequent
DWI violations need not be confined "until the term of imprisonment
imposed has been served." Ibid. That literal reading has no
basis in the legislative history, and produces absurd results.
The bill that became Michael's Law was introduced into the
Assembly. A. 3342 (Feb. 13, 2003) [Original Assembly Bill].3 The
Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee adopted a committee
substitute. Assemb. Comm. Substit. for A. 3342 (Mar. 10, 2003)
[Assembly Committee Substitute]. The Senate Law and Public Safety
and Veterans' Affairs Committee amended the Assembly Committee
Substitute. Assemb. Comm. Substit. for A. 3342 (first reprint
Nov. 24, 2003) [Senate Committee Amended Bill].4 The amended
The bill introduced in the Senate contained the identical
proposed language and sponsors' statement. S. 2378 (Mar. 10,
2003); Sponsors' Statement appended to S. 2378 (Mar. 10, 2003).
The Senate committee also adopted an identical Senate committee
substitute and statement. Senate Comm. Substit. for S. 2378 (Nov.
24, 2003); Senate L. & Pub. Safety & Veterans' Affairs Comm.
Statement to Senate Comm. Substit. for S. 2378 (Nov. 24, 2003).
version was unanimously passed by the Senate, unanimously passed
by the Assembly on January 12, 2004, and was signed by the
Governor. Governor's Official Press Release (Jan. 20, 2004)
The bill was known as Michael's Law "in memory of Michael
Albano, a 19-year old from Vineland who was killed by a drunk
driver in December 2001. The offender had four previous drunk
driving convictions." Sponsors' Statement appended to A. 3342 53
(Feb. 13, 2003) [Sponsors' Statement]. The statutory language and
legislative history show Michael's Law "enhances penalties for
third and subsequent [DWI] offenses." Governor's Statement at 1.
As Governor McGreevey explained: "'Statistics show multiple DWI
offenders are one of the most difficult groups to stop from drunk
driving . . . . Michael's Law will keep third-time DWI offenders
off the streets, even if they won't keep themselves off the
streets. It will guarantee they spend time in jail.'" Ibid.
First, Michael's Law sought to make third or subsequent DWI
offenders spend 180 days in jail, with the only exception being
up to ninety days in an inpatient drug or alcohol treatment
program. The Original Assembly Bill provided that such a "person
shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than 180
days, except that the court may lower such term for each day, not
exceeding 90 days, of participation in a rehabilitation program
for drug and alcohol dependent persons." Id. at 2.6 The bill's
sponsors sought to "motivate these offenders to seek treatment for
the underlying alcohol or drug problem that causes them to
reoffend." Sponsors' Statement at 53.
The Assembly Committee Substitute proposed to amend
39:4-50(a)(3) to require that third or subsequent DWI offenders
serve both "90 days imprisonment in a county jail or workhouse"
and "a 90-day drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program."
Id. at 3. The committee statement explained this would require
"a mandatory 90-day term of imprisonment in a county jail or
workhouse." Assemb. L. & Pub. Safety Comm. Statement to Assemb.
Comm. Substit. for A. 3342 1 (Mar. 10, 2003) [Assembly Committee
The Original Assembly Bill proposed to place this language in a
new section in the Criminal Code making a third or subsequent DWI
offense "a crime of the fourth degree," and to amend
39:4-50(a)(3) by deleting its language addressing jail and
community service and adding that a defendant who committed a
third or subsequent DWI offense "shall be subject to the penalties
set forth in" the proposed criminal section. Original Assembly
Bill at 2, 36. Those proposals were not adopted in subsequent
versions of the bill.
The Senate Committee Amended Bill replaced the Assembly
Committee's requirement of ninety days in jail and ninety days in
inpatient rehabilitation with the ultimately-adopted requirement
of "not less than 180 days in a county jail or workhouse" which
the court could reduce "for each day, not exceeding 90 days," in
an inpatient rehabilitation program. Id. at 3. The Senate
committee statement explained that, except for such inpatient
rehabilitation, it was otherwise requiring "a mandatory 180-day
sentence in a county jail or workhouse." Senate L. & Pub. Safety
& Veterans' Affairs Comm. Statement to Assemb. Comm. Substit. for
A. 3342 1 (Nov. 24, 2003) [Senate Committee Statement].
Second, Michael's Law sought to prevent third or subsequent
DWI offenders from serving any of their jail sentence in community
service. The bill deleted the language in
permitting up to ninety days of the jail term to be served by
performing community service. Original Assembly Bill at 2, 36;
Assembly Committee Substitute at 3; Senate Committee Amended Bill
at 3. The committee statements differentiated Michael's Law from
the "current law" under which a court could reduce the 180-day
jail term "by up to 90 days for each day served performing
community service." Assembly Committee Statement at 1; Senate
Committee Statement at 1.
Third, Michael's Law sought to remove the option of serving
all of the 180-day term in an inpatient drug or alcohol
rehabilitation program. Unlike the unnumbered paragraph of
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) (1993), which permitted all DWI offenders to
be sentenced "to the county jail, to the workhouse of the county
wherein the offense was committed, [or] to an inpatient
rehabilitation program," ibid., Michael's Law required third or
subsequent DWI offenders to serve the first ninety days "in a
county jail or workhouse." Assembly Committee Substitute at 3;
Senate Committee Amended Bill at 3. The committee statements
noted that "[u]nder current law," third or subsequent DWI offenders
"may not be required to serve their term of imprisonment in the
county jail or workhouse, but may serve such imprisonment in an
inpatient rehabilitation program. Under the substitute, at least
90 days would have to be served in jail without exception."
Assembly Committee Statement at 1; Senate Committee Statement at
Fourth, Michael's Law sought to prevent work release for a
third or subsequent DWI violation by inserting the language "a
first or second violation" into
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51. Assembly
Committee Substitute at 3; Senate Committee Amended Bill at 3.
The committee statements explained: "The substitute also makes
drunk drivers who are required to serve the [180-day] mandatory
term of imprisonment ineligible to participate in a work release
program. Under a work release program, qualified prisoners may
be employed outside the jail, but when not working, they must be
confined to the jail." Senate Committee Statement at 1; see
Assembly Committee Statement at 1.
Thus, the legislative history shows Michael's Law sought to
strengthen the penalties for third or subsequent DWI offenders,
like the driver who killed Michael Albano, by requiring them to
serve 180 days in the county jail or workhouse, with up to ninety
days in an inpatient drug or alcohol rehabilitation program, and
by precluding all other sentencing alternatives. These penalty
enhancements served to keep third-time DWI offenders confined for
180 days and thus "'off the streets, even if they won't keep
themselves off the streets.'" Governor's Statement at 1.
Nowhere in the legislative history is there any indication
the Legislature intended Michael's Law to weaken the penalties for
third or subsequent DWI offenders by allowing them to be
periodically released before they have served the 180 days. Such
a result would be contrary to the Legislature's intent to end all
other sentencing alternatives, and would defeat the purpose of
keeping such defendants confined for the 180 days.
Moreover, defendant's argument is contrary to our definitive
interpretation of Michael's Law in State v. Luthe, 383 N.J. Super.
512 (App. Div. 2006). The principal issue raised in Luthe's
appellate brief was:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DENYING THE DEFENDANT
THE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALTERNATE SENTENCING
PROGRAMS PURSUANT TO THE PRACTICES ENGAGED IN
THROUGHOUT THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY THEREBY
VIOLATING THE DEFENDANT'S EQUAL PROTECTION
Luthe "claim[ed] other counties afford third-offenders
alternative sentencing options." Luthe,
383 N.J. Super. at 513.
Luthe's brief argued, and she supplied a certification showing,
that "fourteen out of twenty-one counties in New Jersey offer
alternate sentencing programs such as the Work Release Program,
SLAP, CLAP, Home Arrest, the Bracelet Program and Day/Weekend
Day service and weekend service are prominent examples of
periodic service. See State v. J.C.S.,
156 N.J. Super. 66, 71
(App. Div. 1978) (rejecting an order allowing a criminal sentence
to "be served on weekends" because there was "no statutory
authority for imposition of a periodic sentence"); see State v.
396 N.J. Super. 58, 63 (Law Div. 2005) (treating weekend
service as a "periodic sentence" under
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-22), aff'd
396 N.J. Super. 389 (App. Div. 2007). Defendant's Municipal
"SLAP" refers to a sheriff's "labor assistance program."
N.J.S.A. 2B:19-5. CLAP refers to a Department of Corrections'
labor assistance program.
Court sentence was essentially weekend service, shifted to slow
days on a restaurant's schedule.
In Luthe, we rejected defendant's claim that she had a right
to seek such periodic service. First, we generally held that
Michael's Law prohibits work release and all other "alternative
sentencing options" for third or subsequent DWI offenders. Id.
at 513-16. We emphasized that Michael's Law amended
39:4-50(a)(3) to require such defendants to serve the 180 days "in
a county jail or workhouse" or in an "inpatient rehabilitation
program." Id. at 514 (quoting
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3)); see id.
at 514 & n.2 (noting that such "inpatient confinement" "shares
some of the same characteristics" as jail). We ruled N.J.S.A.
39:4-50(a)(3)'s "language is clear. Confinement, either entirely
in jail or partially in jail and partially in an inpatient
facility, is required. There is no allowance for noncustodial
alternatives." Id. at 514. We found "the result would be the
same" if we considered the legislative history. Id. at 514 (citing
Assembly Committee Statement and quoting Senate Committee
Statement and Governor's Statement).
Second, in Luthe we viewed the amendment to
as intended to prohibit work release for third or subsequent DWI
offenders. Luthe argued
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 authorized work release.
Id. at 515. We rejected that claim, because under Michael's law
that "statute applies solely to '[a] person who has been convicted
of a first or second violation of Section 39:4-50[.]'" Ibid.
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51). We added that "
does not allow work release as an alternate form of sentencing."
Ibid. "Simply put,
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3) does not authorize
noncustodial alternatives to the mandatory 180 days confinement,
whether that confinement be served entirely in jail or partially
in an inpatient facility. There is no statutory authority for
work release programs, out-patient treatment, or the like as an
Third, in Luthe we specifically rejected Luthe's claim she
had a right to be considered for periodic service. We noted
Luthe's certification that, despite Michael's Law, "fourteen of
the twenty-one counties provide such alternatives as work release,
home arrest, day reporting and weekend reporting." Id. at 516.
Although we stated the survey was not competent evidence,
"[n]onetheless" we ruled that "if disparity exists as to the use
of these alternative programs, it must cease, consistent with our
construction of the statute." Ibid.
We reaffirmed Luthe in State v. Kotsev,
396 N.J. Super. 389
(App. Div. 2007). We made clear "Luthe is binding." Id. at 391.
We also agreed with the Law Division's ruling in Kotsev that the
Michael's Law "amendments limit work release programs to first and
second D.W.I. offenders." Kotsev,
396 N.J. Super. at 63-64, aff'd
396 N.J. Super. at 391. We have since reaffirmed Luthe in
State v. Toussaint,
440 N.J. Super. 526 (App. Div. 2015), agreeing
that "the legislative history [of Michael's Law] explicitly
indicated the Legislature's intent to prohibit work release" for
third or subsequent offenders. Id. at 533-34 (citing Luthe,
383 N.J. Super. at 514). Our Supreme Court has also reaffirmed Luthe's
broad holding: "Thus, unlike the pre-2004 statute, [Michael's Law]
requires a third or subsequent DWI offender to be confined 'either
entirely in jail or partially in jail and partially in an inpatient
facility' with 'no allowance for noncustodial alternatives.'"
State v. Denelsbeck,
225 N.J. 103, 116 (2016) (quoting Luthe,
383 N.J. Super. at 514).
Moreover, we agreed with the Law Division in Kotsev, which
applied the law in 1993 when Kotsev's third DWI offense occurred
and rejected his request to serve "his sentence on weekends"
because "such a sentence would not be aligned with the intent of
the Legislature or the enhanced penalties contained in the current
396 N.J. Super. at 60-61, 64, aff’d o.b.,
396 N.J. Super. at 391. We similarly rejected Kotsev's claim he should
be allowed to serve his jail sentence on weekends: "The 1993 DWI
statute was no less clear than the 2004 amendment. . . . SLAP is
not an option. Weekend service is not an option." Kotsev, 396
4 N.J. Super. at 390-92. Though Kotsev's decision under 1993 law
is not dispositive in our interpretation of Michael's Law, it
highlights that defendant is claiming that Michael's Law granted
third or subsequent DWI offenders a lenient sentencing option,
denied all DWI defendants under the preexisting law, and still
denied to first and second DWI offenders.
Defendant relies on a Law Division case, State v. Grabowski,
388 N.J. Super. 431 (Law Div. 2006). The judge in Grabowski held
that "a defendant, having been convicted of a third or subsequent
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, may be sentenced to periodic
imprisonment pursuant to
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-22 notwithstanding the
provisions of Michael's Law . . . and the ruling in State v.
388 N.J. Super. at 432.
However, we have rejected Grabowski. In Kotsev, we ruled the
"[d]efendant's reliance on State v. Grabowski . . . is
substantially misplaced. First, the Law Division decision is not
binding on any court. Second, the Law Division decision . . . is
contrary to State v. Luthe." Kotsev,
396 N.J. Super. at 391. In
any event, the Law Division's decision in Grabowski is not
persuasive for several reasons.
First, the judge in Grabowski concluded Luthe "has not ruled
that periodic incarceration is unavailable to persons convicted
of third and subsequent DWI offenses."
388 N.J. Super. at 438.
The judge asserted that Luthe's "reference to 'home arrest, day
reporting and weekend reporting' is dicta" and that "the precise
issue in Luthe "was limited to the availability of non-custodial
alternatives." Id. at 438-40.
To the contrary, in Luthe we ruled that Michael's Law barred
all "alternative sentencing options," and removed any "statutory
authority for work release programs, out-patient treatment, or the
like as an alternative." Luthe, 383 N.J. Super. at 513-15
(emphasis added). In particular, we rejected Luthe's claim she
had a right to be considered for "such alternatives as . . . day
reporting and weekend reporting," ordering that "the use of these
alternative programs . . . must cease." Id. at 516.
Although not the focus of our opinion, our rejection of
Luthe's claim for periodic service was not dicta. "'[M]atters in
the opinion of a higher court which are not decisive of the primary
issue presented but which are germane to that issue . . . are not
dicta, but binding decisions of the court.'" State v. Rose,
206 N.J. 141, 183 (2011) (citation omitted). In any event, "'an
expression of opinion on a point involved in a case, argued by
counsel and deliberately mentioned by the court, although not
essential to the disposition of the case . . . becomes
authoritative when it is expressly declared by the court as a
guide for future conduct.'" Ibid. (citation omitted).8
Second, the judge in Grabowski relied on the supposed silence
of a non-binding memorandum. In Luthe, we suggested the
Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) consider issuing
directives "to ensure uniform compliance with the statute." 383
N.J. Super. at 516. In Grabowski, the judge asserted the
subsequent AOC memorandum barring SLPA and work release said
nothing about periodic imprisonment.
388 N.J. Super. at 439-40.
However, the AOC memorandum implied the 180-day confinement
was to be served immediately and continuously. It instructed that
"the jail term of a third or subsequent DWI offender should begin
on the same day on which he or she is sentenced"; "such a defendant
should go directly from the municipal court to the jail, minimizing
his or her opportunity to drive"; courts should ensure "the
Recently, in holding intermittent service permissible for a
different crime under different statutes,
N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26 and
N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2, we commented in a footnote that "[t]he references
to weekend sentences in Kotsev and Luthe are dicta." State v.
Rodriguez, __ N.J. Super. __, __ n.12 (App. Div. Apr. 12, 2018).
However, it was not dicta when we rejected the appellants' demands
for weekend service in Kotsev under 1993 law, and in Luthe under
Michael's Law. Thus, we respectfully disagree with the comment
in Rodriguez. We express no opinion about the validity of the
actual holding in Rodriguez, because we, like Luthe and Kotsev,
address "a different violation of a different statute with a
different legislative history," and a different statute concerning
periodic service. N.J. Super. at n.12.
defendant first serves the entire 180 days of imprisonment minus
the projected length of the inpatient rehabilitation program"; and
after serving the jail portion, the defendant "should immediately
begin to serve the balance of the term . . . in the inpatient
rehabilitation program." AOC, "Sentencing of Third or Subsequent
DWI Offenders – State v. Luthe and 'Michael's Law'" at 1-2 (Oct.
25, 2006) (quoting Governor's Statement at 1). The AOC memorandum
suggested such continuous service of the 180 days "[i]n order to
effectuate" "[t]he Legislature's stated purpose in enacting
'Michael's Law' [which] was to 'keep third-time DWI offenders off
the streets, even if they won't keep themselves off the streets.'"
Id. at 1 (quoting Luthe,
383 N.J. Super. at 514 (quoting Governor's
Statement at 1)).
Even if the AOC memorandum had not implied continuous service,
an AOC directive "has no substantive effect in the interpretation
of the statute or prior case law." Booker v. N.J. State Parole
265 N.J. Super. 191, 199 n.4 (App. Div. 1993), aff'd,
136 N.J. 257 (1994). Indeed, the Law Division in Grabowski invoked
that case to explain why it was not bound by a county directive
based on the consensus of the Conference of Presiding Judges of
the Municipal Courts.
388 N.J. Super. at 433-34.
Third, the judge in Grabowksi faulted Luthe for not citing
388 N.J. Super. at 440. However, N.J.S.A.
2B:12-22 is part of the general statutes governing the Municipal
Court, and makes no specific reference to DWI offenders. By
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 and Michael's Law specifically
addressed how DWI offenders must serve their jail term. Thus, as
to those defendants, the more specific DWI provisions governs over
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-22, and Luthe properly relied on them.
"It is a well established precept of statutory construction that
when two statutes conflict, the more specific controls over the
more general." N.J. Transit Corp. v. Borough of Somerville,
139 N.J. 582, 591 (1995).
Fourth, the judge in Grabowski asserted that "Luthe did not
analyze the distinction between work release, SLAP and other non-
custodial alternatives and periodic sentences," and "that periodic
incarceration authorized by
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-22 is materially
different from the non-custodial alternatives considered in
388 N.J. Super. at 438, 440. However, the
judge made too much of this distinction. Periodic service and
work release strongly resemble each other. Both allow defendants
to be in jail for limited periods and to be released from custody
to work, including at the jobs they had prior to conviction. See
N.J.S.A. 30:8-46. Thus, they both involve custodial jail time and
non-custodial work time. Indeed, defendant's request to be in
jail only two days a week so he could work in his restaurant five
days a week was effectively a request for work release.
The judge in Grabowski asserted that a person on work release
was subject to more restrictions because "when such a person is
not so employed, and between the hours or periods of employment,
he or she should be confined in jail, N.J.S.A. 30:8-48," and
because the person can be prosecuted for escape under
388 N.J. Super. at 438. However,
2C:29-5(a) covers any person who "fails to return to official
detention following temporary leave granted for a specific purpose
or limited period," and thus appears broad enough to cover
defendants released during periodic service who fail to return
after the "limited period" of release. Ibid. Moreover, periodic
service can be limited to "particular days."
The judge in Grabowski stated: "Most importantly, inmates
admitted to county work release programs may be granted a
diminution of their sentence of up to one-quarter of their term
for good conduct."
388 N.J. Super. at 438-39 (citing
30:8-50). "While SLAP and work release inmates are earning jail
time credit while not actually confined within the four walls of
the penal institution, those persons under a sentence of periodic
imprisonment receive jail credit only for each day or fraction of
a day to the nearest hour actually served." Id. at 439. "The
effect is that those persons under such a sentence will serve no
less time in the aggregate than those who serve their sentences
consecutively. This, of course, is not the case with persons
admitted into work release or SLAP programs." Ibid.
That distinction is unpersuasive. First, it is discretionary
whether work release results in any reduction in jail time, with
no guarantee of a day-for-day reduction.
N.J.A.C. 10A:31-25.22(a); see N.J.A.C. 10A:31-23.1(b). Second,
SLAP inmates are "rigorously supervise[d] offenders providing
physical labor" for the sheriff, and thus earn whatever jail credit
In any event, even if SLAP or work release provided day-for-
day credit, and even if they more closely resemble confinement
than periodic service does, that begs the question why the
Legislature in Michael's Law, which eliminated both work release
and SLAP to increase the punitive and deterrent effect of the 180-
day term, would simultaneously decrease the severity of that term
by allowing it to be served in periodic snippets at the defendant's
convenience and request.
Fifth, the judge in Grabowski found the Legislature may have
misdrafted its amendment of
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51. The judge noted
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 "had authorized work release as a sentencing
option for persons convicted of DWI," and that "Michael's Law
eliminated that option for third and subsequent offenders" by
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 so "that the statute applies solely to
'[a] person who has been convicted of a first or second violation
of Section 39:4-50.'"
388 N.J. Super. at 435-36 (quoting Luthe,
383 N.J. Super. at 515). As a result, the judge ruled "that the
literal and plain language of
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 compels the
conclusion that the requirement for continuous confinement to jail
for violators of our drunk driving statute does not extend to
third and subsequent offenders." Id. at 436. "Whether this result
was intentional on the part of the Legislature, or less than artful
draftsmanship that resulted in legislative 'blowback' (the concept
of unforeseen and unintended consequences), is unclear. However,
it is not for this court to completely re-write a statute which
can be afforded a reasonable interpretation when construed as
written." Id. at 437.
To the contrary, the Grabowski judge's reading of
39:4-51 was not reasonable. The judge asserted that opening the
door to periodic service by third or subsequent DWI offenders may
have been intentional because "[o]rdinarily, a change of statutory
language implies a purposeful alteration in the substance of the
388 N.J. Super. at 437. However, as the legislative history
makes clear, the Legislature's purpose in inserting the language
"a first or second violation" in
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 was to restrict
work release to defendants convicted of a first or second DWI
violation, and thus to make defendants convicted of third or
subsequent violations "ineligible to participate in a work release
program." Senate Committee Statement at 1; see Assembly Committee
Statement at 1.
To read the amended
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51 literally would defeat
that legislative objective. The language "first or second
violation" appears only in the amended first sentence, which does
not address work release. Read literally, that language would
affect only the first sentence and would have no effect on the
unchanged subsequent sentences permitting all DWI defendants to
"be released on a work release program."
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51. We
rejected that literal reading in Luthe, instead applying the
language to bar work release as the Legislature intended.
383 N.J. Super. at 515-16.
Moreover, the Grabowski judge's literal reading would cause
an absurd result the Legislature never intended. Before Michael's
Law, all DWI defendants, whether convicted of a first, second,
third, or subsequent DWI offense, could not be released from
imprisonment in a county jail or workhouse until their prison term
had been served, and were ineligible for weekend service.
39:4-51 (1993); Kotsev,
396 N.J. Super. at 63-64, aff'd o.b.,
396 N.J. Super. at 392. However, the judge read Michael's Law as
allowing third or subsequent DWI offenders to be released
periodically before their mandatory 180-day term had been served,
while requiring first or second DWI offenders to serve their entire
The judge in Grabowski, and defendant here, could not posit
any reason why the Legislature would weaken the severity of the
180-day term for third or subsequent DWI offenders, or treat them
more leniently than first or second DWI offenders who must
continuously serve their sentences, which can be as long as ninety
days in jail.
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(2). The judge's reading of
Michael's Law contradicts its entire purpose: to gain "greater
deterrence" and impose "increased penalties" on defendants
convicted of third and subsequent DWI offenses by removing every
method of ameliorating the 180-day term. Kotsev,
396 N.J. Super.
at 63-64, aff’d, o.b.,
396 N.J. Super. at 391; see State v. Chun,
194 N.J. 54, 74 (2008) (noting that Michael's Law had imposed
"increasingly harsh" penalties for third and subsequent offenders
by imposing mandatory time in jail or inpatient rehabilitation);
State v. Chambers,
377 N.J. Super. 365, 375 (App. Div. 2005)
(ruling that Michael's Law "strengthened the mandatory prison term
for third or subsequent convictions" as part of "the overall thrust
of the 2004 amendments" to "increase the penalties for violators").
Crucially, the Law Division ignored the long-standing
principle that "[i]t is axiomatic that a statute will not be
construed to lead to absurd results. All rules of construction
are subordinate to that obvious proposition." State v. Provenzano,
34 N.J. 318, 322 (1961); see Harper,
229 N.J. at 237; Nance,
228 N.J. at 396.
"The goal of all statutory interpretation 'is
to give effect to the intent of the
Legislature.'" In doing so, "we must construe
the statute sensibly and consistent with the
objectives that the Legislature sought to
achieve." We will not adopt an interpretation
of the statutory language that leads to an
absurd result or one that is distinctly at
odds with the public-policy objectives of a
[State v. Morrison,
227 N.J. 295, 308 (2016)
For example, in Harper, we rejected a claim that a gun amnesty
statute's "plain language" precluded prosecution because "such a
reading of the law would lead to absurd results that are at odds
with the overall legislative scheme."
229 N.J. at 238. We did
so even though "the legislative history of the amnesty provision
is sparse," because "[o]n the same day the amnesty provision was
enacted, the Governor also signed . . . related laws" strengthening
the gun laws. Id. at 239.
Here, as noted in the Governor's Statement, on the same day
as the Governor signed Michael's Law he also signed two other
acts, which the Legislature passed the same day as Michael's Law,
designed to strengthen the DWI laws and increase traffic safety.
Id. at 2. "Florence's Law," L. 2003, c. 314, amended
39:4-50 to make it an offense to drive with a blood alcohol level
of 0.08% to 0.10%, while the other law, L. 2003, c. 310, "ban[ned]
the use of hand-held wireless phones in moving vehicles."
Governor's Statement at 2. Moreover, the ample legislative history
of Michael's Law demonstrates that the Grabowski judge's reading
was contrary to the intent of the Legislature to enhance the
penalties for third or subsequent offenders and to prevent them
from getting work release by inserting a restriction to "a first
or second violation" in
We agree that the Legislature employed less than artful
draftsmanship in the placement of that phrase in the first rather
than the second sentence of
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51. We also agree
"[c]ourts cannot 'rewrite a plainly-written enactment of the
Legislature.'" State v. Frye,
217 N.J. 566, 575 (2014) (citation
omitted). Nevertheless, where a court "determines that 'a literal
interpretation would create a manifestly absurd result, contrary
to public policy, the spirit of the law should control.'" Ibid.
(citation omitted); see State v. Drake,
444 N.J. Super. 265, 276-
78 (App. Div. 2016) (applying that precept even though the
Legislature's draftsmanship was "'subject to criticism'").
Finally, the judge in Grabowski said that under the rule of
lenity, "[p]enal statutes that are open to more than one reasonable
construction must be construed strictly against the State."
388 N.J. Super. 436. However, "'the rule of strict construction does
not mean that the "manifestations of the Legislature's intention
should be disregarded."'" State v. Carreker,
172 N.J. 100, 115
(2002) (citations omitted). "Instead, the rule of lenity is
applied only if . . . [the] ambiguity is not resolved by a review
of 'all sources of legislative intent.'" State v. Regis,
439, 452 (2011) (citation omitted). The legislative history of
Michael's Law shows the legislative intent was to preclude work
release, not allow periodic service.
Moreover, "'[e]ven a penal statute should not be construed
to reach a ridiculous or absurd result.'" State v. Jones,
347 N.J. Super. 150, 153 (App. Div. 2002) (quoting State v. Wrotny,
221 N.J. Super. 226, 229 (App. Div. 1987) (citing State v. Gill,
47 N.J. 441, 444 (1966))). The rule of lenity "only applies when
other canons of statutory interpretation fail to yield a clear
result." State v. Twiggs,
445 N.J. Super. 23, 36 (App. Div. 2016),
aff’d, N.J. (2018). Here, the canon against absurd
interpretations yields a clear result, precluding application of
the rule of lenity. See, e.g., Harper,
229 N.J. at 231, 244;
State v. Fleischman,
189 N.J. 539, 550, 553 n.4 (2007).
Accordingly, we disapprove the Law Division's decision in
Grabowski. Defendant's remaining arguments lack sufficient merit
to warrant discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).