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The first step in determining whether a statute as interpreted is unconstitutionally vague or overbroad is to determine if the statute is overbroad. In making that analysis, the question is whether the enactment reaches a substantial amount of constitutionally protected conduct. The standard is not whether the law's meaning is sufficiently clear, but whether the reach of the law extends too far in fulfilling the state's interest.
Defendant Ronald Lee was convicted of possession of a weapon under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful use as it may have, pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-5d, after he was found to be in possession of scissors taped together to form a stiletto. The appellate division affirmed. Defendant challenged the constitutionality of 2C:39-5 d, arguing that the same was vague, overbroad, and effected an unconstitutional shift of the burden of proof to defendant.
Was N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-5d unconstitutional for being vague or overbroad, thereby warranting the reversal of defendant’s conviction?
The court affirmed, finding that N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-5d did not require intent to harm and was not overbroad or vague. The court found that possession of a weapon with intent to harm was instead prohibited by N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-4d, and surrounding circumstances reflected that the object was not manifestly appropriate for lawful use. The court concluded that the statute was not overbroad as it did not impinge upon any U.S. Const. amend. I rights, and affected only the knowing possession of a weapon under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses. The court found that the statute was not vague, as the words were a sufficient warning so that an ordinary person was apprised with a reasonable degree of certainty of that which was proscribed, and law enforcement officers were on notice that mere possession of a potential weapon was not sufficient to justify an arrest.