Be aware of what you did and how the prosecutor’s office(s) has presented that information to the Grand Jury!!
Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In this case the defendant was charged with numerous counts of possession and possession with intent to distribute CDS. He was involve in numerous undercover sales of heroin and cocaine. However, the weight of those sales were limited to second degree offenses. The state, at the time of the presentation to the Grand Jury attempted to group together the cocaine weight distributed with the amount of heroin distributed in order to obtain a ‘true bill’ from the Grand Jury at the higher 1st degree range. The defense field a motion to dismiss those 1st degree charges arguing the State is precluded from aggregating the weight of cocaine and heroin to achieve a higher degree of crime pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(c).
The trial court conducted exhaustive examination of language contained in 2C:35-5(c) statute and the use of plural verses singular wording and legislative drafting. The trial court and this appellate panel concluded the legislature never expressly allowed such a manipulation of the language of the statute finding: “plain meaning is clear: a single substance, possessed on different occasions with the intent to distribute, may be aggregated to reach the five-ounce, first- degree weight. Nothing in the statute supports the State’s interpretation that the weights of different drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, may be aggregated to reach the five-ounce, first- degree weight. The plain meaning of the N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(c) precludes the State’s interpretation”
There court also rejected the prosecutor’s efforts to argue ambiguity in the statute should detrimentally effect the defendant. This panel opined “where it is not clear whether something is permitted under a criminal statute, the benefit of this lack of clarity should accrue to the defendant.” If an ambiguity in a criminal statute is not resolved by reviewing the text and extrinsic sources, the rule of lenity dictates that the ambiguities must be interpreted in favor of the defendant. State v. Sumulikoski, 221 N.J. 93, 110 (2015). Thus, “all penal statutes are to be strictly construed.” State v. Twiggs, 445 N.J. Super. 23, 36 (App. Div. 2016) (citing State v. D.A., 191 N.J. 158, 164 (2007)). Any doubt as to whether N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(c) should be interpreted to allow the aggregation of different drugs to increase the degree of crime must be resolved in favor of defendant.”