Appellate Court Upholds NJ False Government Documents Statute

July 16th, 2014

In the case of State v. Borjas, the defendant challenged the constitutionality of N.J.S. 2C:21-2.1, a criminal statute that enumerates various offenses involving false governmental documents.  The defendant argued that the statutes are unconstitutional, both on their face and as applied to him, in that they are vague and they disallow substantial amounts of constitutionally-protected expression.  The Appellate Court upheld the constitutionality of the statutes on their face, but left open the door that they could be unconstitutional “as applied” in certain types of cases.

When defendant was arrested, law enforcement officers found several New Jersey driver’s licenses on his computer bearing his photo, but other people’s names.  He was charged with possessing materials to make a false government document.  The defendant contended that this statute is unconstitutional in that it can be used to criminalize constitutionally-protected expression.   The defendant argued that the statute can be used to prosecute people who create, alter, or possess mock governmental documents for benign reasons, such as artistic purposes, political satire, or educational purposes.

The Court rejected defendant’s argument by first noting that none of these “benign purposes” pertain to defendant.  There was nothing in the record to indicate that defendant possessed the false documents for artistic, political, or educational purposes.  Moreover, when construed in conjunction with other portions of the Criminal Code, such as the portions that define “knowing” and “purposeful” conduct, as well as the portions that define “possession,” the statutes are not overly broad on their face.  The Court, however, did leave open the door that in cases where such documents are possessed for benign purposes, they could be unconstitutional “as applied” to those cases.

Article by New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Nace Naumoski.

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