When You Have been Charged with a Strict Liability Crime in NJ
A multitude of criminal offenses ranging from assault, to sexual assault, to robbery in New Jersey require the state to prove that you possessed some intent when committing a crime. However, offenses known as strict liability crimes allow the court to reach a guilty finding by the prosecution merely showing that you committed the act itself. In some cases, those convicted of strict liability crimes face harsher sentences than those charged with offenses requiring a specific intent.
Since strict liability crimes can be easier to prove, careful consideration should be given to the attorney you choose to defend you against these types of criminal charges. Finding the most well-equipped criminal defense lawyer to have examining all of the evidence against you and challenging any aspect of it that may be insufficient or unfounded should be of utmost concern at this critical juncture. If you would like to speak with an attorney about a criminal case in New Brunswick, Edison, Old Bridge, Woodbridge, Piscataway, South Brunswick or elsewhere in Middlesex County, New Jersey, simply call (732) 659-9600 or send us a message for an absolutely cost-free consultation.
Meaning of strict liability for criminal charges in New Jersey
Strict liability means that a person can be accused of committing a crime simply by performing an act that violates a particular statute. The person’s lack of intent is irrelevant, as the act itself is what matters most. Ordinarily, New Jersey assigns a level of culpability (mens rea) to each element of an offense, namely purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. With strict liability offenses on the other hand, there is no stated mens rea in the statute as outlined in the NJ Criminal Code. Nonetheless, the state will have to show that you acted knowingly with regard to certain elements of the crime, but not all.
Examples of strict liability offenses
Some strict liability offenses may be easier to prove than those with stated intent. For example, the crime of strict liability for a drug induced death N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 allows the state to charge you with the equivalent of a murder if you dealt drugs to a person who used them and died as a result. All that must be proven is that you knowingly distributed narcotics to the deceased, that they used them shortly thereafter, and that the person died. Essentially, there is no requirement that the state show that you intended to kill the victim. Usually, in a homicide, the prosecutor must prove that you acted knowingly or purposely in killing the person.
Another example of a strict liability crime is unlawful possession of a weapon. Many who come to New Jersey are understandably shocked when they are arrested for possession of a weapon in the second degree. The accused often tells the officer that they are licensed in another state. Sadly, the officer has no choice in arresting the individual because having a license in another state does not absolve them of the crime of possessing a weapon in this state without a permit. In essence, traveling to or through New Jersey with a firearm permit from elsewhere is a violation of the laws of NJ, regardless of your knowledge of the law in the first place. You clearly had no intention of committing a crime but your intention is irrelevant in this context, as it is a strict liability crime.
Similarly, possession of a weapon by a certain person, otherwise known as a certain persons offense, entails the notion of strict liability. If you are someone who is prohibited from having a weapon because you have been convicted of an eligible felony or you were found to have committed an act of domestic violence, you will be charged with a certain persons offense if you are found to possess a weapon. The charge can and will ensue even if you did not know it was against the law to possess the weapon. For each of these criminal offenses, there is no intention of the defendant to commit the crimes as stated. The intention of the accused is really only to possess the weapon itself.
In other cases, the conduct is seemingly less troublesome but a strict liability offense nonetheless. For instance, one seemingly innocuous violation that is actually a strict liability offense is driving a car while suspended for a second or subsequent DUI. This is a fourth degree crime, meaning a criminal offense as opposed to a traffic matter. The act of driving is the crime per the outlines of this law. All the state must show is that you knew your license was suspended and that you were driving after you had two DWI convictions.
Defenses and options when charged with a strict liability crime in NJ
The problem with strict liability charges is that the very nature of these crimes reduces the defenses that would be available in other cases. It can basically make it easier for the state to prove their case against you. When that happens, the potential jail time can be so devastating that it behooves a person to proactively resolve the case before trial. That is not to say that trials never occur in strict liability matters. It should be determined on a case-by-case basis whether it is best to get the case worked out during pretrial negotiations. If the situation warrants, getting a favorable deal can be used in order to cap a sentence by agreement, rather than leaving it up to the judge after a trial. The sentences after a trial are often mandatory in these cases, leaving the judge’s hands reasonably tied.
There are certain mandatory sentencing provisions attached to some strict liability crimes. For driving while suspended for a second DWI, the court has no choice but to send you to jail for a minimum of 180 days. It makes no difference that you have no priors or that you were not drinking when charged with the offense. Additionally, in the case of a felon who possesses a weapon, the judge must send you to jail for 5 years and you must serve 5 years before reaching parole eligibility.
Finding the Right Defense Lawyer to Assist with Your Strict Liability Criminal Case in Middlesex County NJ
The above explanation of New Jersey strict liability crimes sounds bleak, but our skilled criminal lawyers understand the various ways to assist in your defense. We have been defending clients charged with crimes like drug distribution, aggravated assault, eluding an officer, endangering the welfare of a minor, burglary, and many others for over ten years in Middlesex County and statewide. Contact our local Edison office at (732) 659-9600 for more information and personalized legal assistance with your case today. The consultation is always available to you at no charge.