On April 19, 2018, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Ocean County case of State v. John Gorman. The principle issue before the Court was whether our courts can rely on the theft consolidation statute to accept a guilty plea to a charge of theft by deception when the defendant does not provide a complete factual basis for that crime at the plea allocution.
In relevant part, the Court held as follows: The plea judge agreed with the State’s argument “that defendant cannot and should not be permitted to escape his admitted guilt simply because he disclaimed an element of theft by deception while admitting to having committed a theft of a different kind, which is theft by failure to make required disposition.” The State echoes that holding, arguing that under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2(a), which consolidates theft offenses, “evidence that defendant committed theft by failing to make required disposition can support a guilty plea to any type of theft.”
When analyzing statutory provisions, we owe no deference to the judge’s legal interpretation of those statutes, a purely legal issue, and conduct our review de novo. “Our task in statutory interpretation is to determine and effectuate the Legislature’s intent.” In construing the laws, words and phrases shall be read and construed with their context, and shall, unless inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature or unless another or different meaning is expressly indicated, be given their generally accepted meaning, according to the approved usage of the language.
“We look first to the plain language of the statute, seeking further guidance only to the extent that the Legislature’s intent cannot be derived from the words that it has chosen.” If additional analysis is required, we utilize “a variety of sources central among which is a statute’s legislative history.”
Theft consolidation or aggregation allows the State to combine numerous thefts into one count of an indictment. The most common reason for doing so is to combine the dollar values in order to make a more serious offense with harsher penalties. This gives the State leverage in plea negotiations, especially in cases where the aggregate figure exceeds $75,000 and thereby equates to a second-degree theft with mandatory prison time.