On May 14, 2020, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Bergen County case of State v. Derrick Lawrence. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-5 was whether a violation of a child support work release curfew constitutes criminal Escape.
Judge Mawla held in relevant part: As the Court noted in Pasqua, enforcement proceedings for the collection of child support are brought under Rule 1:10-3. 186 N.J. 140-41. A proceeding to enforce litigants’ rights under Rule 1:10-3 ‘is essentially a civil proceeding to coerce the defendant into compliance with the court’s order for the benefit of the private litigant’ and ‘incarceration may be ordered only if made contingent upon defendant’s continuing failure to comply with the order.'” Id. at 140 (quoting Essex County Welfare Bd. v. Perkins (App. Div. 1975).
There is no evidence the Legislature intended to apply N.J.S.A. 2C:29-5(a) to a defendant on work release for contempt in a civil proceeding. The statute has only been applied to a defendant who left work release without authorization where the defendant was serving a criminal sentence. See State v. Walker (App. Div. 1974). Moreover, resort to extrinsic sources such as the Model Penal Code, does not support the conclusion that confinement subject to work release for the failure to pay child support is “for law enforcement purposes.” Indeed, coercive confinement for child support purposes is for the benefit of the payee on behalf of the child(ren), and subjecting a delinquent obligor to criminal punishment only impedes the receipt of support.
Therefore, defendant could not be charged with escape pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-5(a), and his plea to the offense was void as a matter of law. For these reasons, we vacate defendant’s convictions for escape and remand for re-sentencing on the non-escape related offenses.
Reversed and remanded. We do not retain jurisdiction.
The point about subjecting a delinquent obligor to criminal sanctions impeding the receipt of child support is a good one. It was likely taken directly from the defendant’s appellate attorney’s brief and oral argument.