Territorial Applicability of the Drug-Induced Death Statute (Part 5)

by | Jul 23, 2019 | Blog, Drug Crime

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: We do not agree with the State’s textual interpretation because it defies a commonsense reading of the statute. “Different words used in the same, or a similar, statute are assigned different meanings whenever possible.” 2A Sutherland on Statutory Construction § 46:6 at 261-63 (7th ed. 2007)). The term “conduct which is an element of the offense” — the language used in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1) — is different from the term “conduct charged” — the language used in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b). The terms are not interchangeable. We must ascribe to the Legislature a reason for using different language in separate provisions of the same statute. See Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 711 n.9 (2004) (“[W]hen the legislature uses certain language in one part of the statute and different language in another, the court assumes different meanings were intended.” (quoting 2A Sutherland on Statutory Construction § 46:6 at 194 (6th rev. ed. 2000))). In N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), the term “conduct which is an element of the offense” refers to but one element of a completed crime, which is typically sufficient for general territorial-jurisdiction purposes. Distribution is but one element of the drug-induced death statute.

In contrast, the term “conduct charged” suggests a completed crime — all the elements necessary to constitute an offense. The wording of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b) is “conduct charged that would not constitute an offense” in another jurisdiction. In that setting, “conduct charged” is equated with a completed offense, not with a mere element of an offense. All the words in a statute must be given meaning and read in context to reach a sensible interpretation.

Justice Albin’s use of logic and statutory interpretation is sound. The Legislature is often given too much credit and deference by our courts due to the separation of powers between the Legislative and Judicial branches. Here, however, it is clear that the use of different words in the same statute calls for the application of different meanings.