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State of New Jersey v. Furman

A-4507-01T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

ZONING; ORDINANCES—When used as the basis for a criminal or quasi-criminal charge, a zoning ordinances is to be strictly construed against the State.

A store owner began to display sheds, gazebos, and other outdoor furniture in an area outside his store. The zoning ordinance prohibited auctions or outdoor sales. The owner was cited by the municipality for violating the ordinance and entered into a plea agreement. As part of the plea agreement, the owner entered into a consent order in which he agreed only to display hardware items outside his store, to display them only during normal business hours, and to store the items inside his store at night. Nevertheless, the owner left sheds and gazebos outside of his store at night. The owner claimed they were not being left outside for display, but rather, they were stored outside pending delivery to his customers. The municipal judge determined that it was a violation of the consent order. The store owner appealed. The lower court believed the owner’s claim that the sheds were not being left outside for display, but only for storage pending delivery to customers. However, the lower court determined that because the consent order did not distinguish between displaying items for sale or storing items outside, the owner was guilty of violating the consent order. The lower court imposed the same sanctions as the municipal court. The owner appealed. The Appellate Division reversed. It rejected the lower court’s interpretation of the law. It found that the lower court treated the case as a land use case instead of a quasi-criminal case. Since it is a quasi-criminal case, the owner was entitled to have the statute construed strictly against the state. Since the ordinance did not prohibit the storage of items outside the store, only the display of items for sale, the owner did not violate the ordinance. The consent order was not material because the store owner could not, by consent order, create an offense that would subject him to criminal penalties if he violated it.

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