The Tolling of Statutes of Limitations (Part 2)

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The final-adopted bill’s Sponsors’ Statement provides that the DNA exception “would toll the applicable statute of limitations for the commission of a crime in certain cases until the State is in possession of DNA evidence taken from the suspect.” Sponsors’ Statement to S. 1516 (Jan. 3, 2002) (emphasis added). In the final bill’s legislative fiscal analysis, the Legislature further explained: “presently, certain guilty persons may avoid standing trial in cases where DNA evidence is received that would establish their identities after the statute of limitations for a particular crime has expired.” Legis. Fiscal Estimate to S. 1516 (Jan. 22, 2002) (emphasis added).

The Legislature’s persistent use of words and phrases like “persons who committed the crime,” “suspect,” and “guilty persons” is evidence that it intended for the word “actor” to mean “defendant.” Nothing in the legislative history of the tolling statute calls into question the plain-language reading identified above or suggests that “actor” should be construed according to the expansive definition proposed by the State.

The State urges a broader reading of the term “actor” in keeping with the definition set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14(g). We reject the State’s argument that the statutory definition for “actor” is unambiguous in the Code. N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14 is a “general definitions” section that lists key words that appear throughout the Code. The statute includes two subsections that offer potentially relevant guidance as to the term “actor”: subsection (e) (“‘Actor’ includes, where relevant, a person guilty of an omission”), and subsection (g) (“‘Person,’ ‘he,’ and ‘actor’ include any natural person and, where relevant, a corporation or an unincorporated association”).

Neither of those definitions, however, is automatically binding. Rather, N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14 begins with the disclaimer that its subsections apply throughout the Code “unless a different meaning plainly is required,” in which case that plainly required meaning controls.

The last paragraph of the Court’s opinion demonstrates that the State was grasping for straws in attempting to apply an “expansive” definition of the term “actor.” It is usually a bad sign for an advocate when the Court refers to their proposed definition as “expansive.”