The Tolling of Statutes of Limitations (Part 3)

by | Sep 14, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The clearest way for a different meaning to be plainly required is, of course, for a statute specifically to define one of the terms that appear in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14. For example, N.J.S.A. 14-1, relating to sexual offenses, defines “actor” as “a person accused of an offense proscribed under this act.” Because Section 14-1 attaches its own meaning to the word “actor,” neither definition of that word in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14 applies to sexual offense charges.

It is not necessary for a statute to specifically define a term from N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14 for that statute to plainly require a different meaning in a particular context. In Rumblin, for example, we declined to ascribe either statutory definition listed in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14 to the word “actor” for purposes of NERA, despite NERA’s failure to define the term itself. We observed that the Code “uses the word ‘actor’ in at least eighty-seven subsections and in at least seventy additional subparts.” After reviewing the statutory definitions and “viewing the term in its proper syntax,” we concluded that the word “actor” is synonymous with “defendant” in NERA and includes both principals and accomplices.

Just as we found that NERA, by its own use of the term, compelled a particular definition of “actor,” so we find that the tolling statute uses “actor” to denote the defendant, the object of prosecution. Indeed, we find that adopting the State’s interpretation and applying the “any natural person” language set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14(g) would undermine the purpose and policy goals of the criminal statutes of limitations.

Under the State’s expansive reading, “actor” in the tolling statute could be read to mean “victim” — in Jones, for example, the identified DNA was that of Jon-Niece. But such a reading conflicts with the ordinary definition of the terms “actor” and “victim.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines the word “actor” as “one who acts; a person whose conduct is in question,” Black’s Law Dictionary 40 (9th ed. 2009), and the word “victim” as “a person harmed by a crime, tort or other wrong,” id. at 1703. Clearly, those two definitions have distinct and contrasting meanings: the actor is one who acts, and the victim is one who is acted upon.

Here, we see the State’s proposed definition of “actor” continuing to unravel. The Court’s analysis regarding how the definition would put actors and victims on equal footing is persuasive.