STATE V. JOHN RAMA

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

State of New Jersey v. John Rama (A-95-97)

 
(NOTE: The Supreme Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's affirmance of the opinion of the Appellate Division is based substantially on the reasons expressed in the majority opinion below.)

Argued February 2, 1998 -- Decided March 11, 1998

PER CURIAM

The issue before the Court is whether N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2.1a (section 2.1) mandates the suspension of driving privileges on conviction of automobile theft, or whether the statute merely authorizes a court to impose driver's license suspension in its sentencing discretion.
 
Section 2.1 provides that a person convicted of theft or unlawful taking of a motor vehicle is, among other penalties, subject for the first offense to a $500 penalty and a suspension of driving privileges in New Jersey for one year.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, John Rama pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property, a 1994 Lexus automobile, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7. The court sentenced Rama to, among other things, three years probation, suspension of his driver's license for one year, and a $500 penalty. The court imposed the $500 penalty and the license suspension because it believed that section 2.1 mandated the imposition of those sanctions. The court noted that, absent the section 2.1 mandate, it would not have imposed the driver's license suspension. The court stayed that suspension pending appeal.

On appeal before the Appellate Division, Rama argued that section 2.1 sanctions are discretionary because the Legislature did not mandate their imposition. According to Rama, the Legislature only made qualifying defendants subject to the section 2.1 sanctions in the trial court's sentencing discretion.

In construing the Legislative intent, the majority found the language in section 2.1, shall be subject to, ambiguous. Therefore, the majority had to determine the statutory construction that would best effectuate the legislative intent of the statute as a whole. The majority of the Appellate panel concluded that the section 2.1 sanctions are mandatory. In reaching it's conclusion, the majority noted that section 2.1 was one of a package of bills passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Florio in response to an epidemic of car thefts in the State. According to the Appellate Division, the four statutes manifest the Legislature's determination to increase the punishment available for persons involved in auto theft. The court further observed that specific discretionary language was not used in section 2.1 as had been used in other sections of the statute. The court also was persuaded that the Legislature would not have granted only discretionary powers to suspend a license, while removing from the sentencing court the discretion to determine the commencement date of the suspension. In addition, the court noted that the criminal code, prior to the adoption of section 2.1, gave the sentencing court discretionary power to forfeit a driver's license for certain motor vehicle offenses.

Judge Dreier dissented, believing that section 2.1 should be narrowly construed to make a defendant only subject to the penalties, rather than construing those penalties as having to be mandatorily imposed.

HELD: Judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed substantially for the reasons expressed by the majority opinion of the Appellate Division. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2.1a mandates the suspension of a defendant's driving privileges upon conviction of automobile theft.

Judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN and COLEMAN join in this PER CURIAM opinion.

SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
A- 95 September Term 1997
 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY,

Plaintiff-Respondent,

v.

JOHN RAMA,

Defendant-Appellant.

Argued February 2, 1998 -- Decided March 11, 1998

On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinions are reported at 298 N.J. Super. 339 (1997).

Matthew Astore, Deputy Public Defender II, argued the cause for appellant (Ivelisse Torres, Public Defender, attorney).

Joan E. Love, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Clifford J. Minor, Essex County Prosecutor, attorney).

Paul H. Heinzel, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for amicus curiae, Attorney General of New Jersey (Peter Verniero, Attorney General, attorney).

PER CURIAM

The judgment is affirmed, substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge D'Annunzio's majority opinion for the Appellate Division, reported at 298 N.J. Super. 339 (1997).

CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in this opinion.

SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
 

NO. A-95

SEPTEMBER TERM 1997
ON APPEAL FROM Appellate Division, Superior Court
ON CERTIFICATION TO

STATE OF NEW JERSEY,

Plaintiff-Respondent,

v.

JOHN RAMA,

Defendant-Appellant.

DECIDED

March 11, 1998
Chief Justice Poritz PRESIDING
OPINION BY PER CURIAM
CONCURRING OPINION BY DISSENTING OPINION BY
CHECKLIST
AFFIRM CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ X JUSTICE HANDLER X JUSTICE POLLOCK X JUSTICE O'HERN X JUSTICE GARIBALDI X JUSTICE STEIN X JUSTICE COLEMAN X TOTALS
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