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New Jersey’s General Requirements of Culpability

When you were a child, you probably ran into situations where you and a friend got in trouble for doing something wrong and you didn’t realize that you were in the wrong. In such situations, we might say that your friend was more culpable (responsible) for the wrongdoing than you are. This example helps us understand New Jersey’s general requirements of culpability:

2C:2-2. General requirements of culpability

a. Minimum requirements of culpability. Except as provided in subsection c.(3) of this section, a person is not guilty of an offense unless he acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently, as the law may require, with respect to each material element of the offense.

b. Kinds of culpability defined.

  1. Purposely. A person acts purposely with respect to the nature of his conduct or a result thereof if it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result. A person acts purposely with respect to attendant circumstances if he is aware of the existence of such circumstances or he believes or hopes that they exist. “With purpose,” “designed,” “with design” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.
  2. Knowingly. A person acts knowingly with respect to the nature of his conduct or the attendant circumstances if he is aware that his conduct is of that nature, or that such circumstances exist, or he is aware of a high probability of their existence. A person acts knowingly with respect to a result of his conduct if he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result. “Knowing,” “with knowledge” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.
  3. Recklessly. A person acts recklessly with respect to a material element of an offense when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct and the circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation. “Recklessness,” “with recklessness” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.
  4. Negligently. A person acts negligently with respect to a material element of an offense when he should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the actor’s failure to perceive it, considering the nature and purpose of his conduct and the circumstances known to him, involves a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation. “Negligently” or “negligence” when used in this code, shall refer to the standard set forth in this section and not to the standards applied in civil cases.

c. Construction of statutes with respect to culpability requirements.

  1. Prescribed culpability requirement applies to all material elements. When the law defining an offense prescribes the kind of culpability that is sufficient for the commission of an offense, without distinguishing among the material elements thereof, such provision shall apply to all the material elements of the offense, unless a contrary purpose plainly appears.
  2. Substitutes for kinds of culpability. When the law provides that a particular kind of culpability suffices to establish an element of an offense such element is also established if a person acts with higher kind of culpability.
  3. Construction of statutes not stating culpability requirement. Although no culpable mental state is expressly designated in a statute defining an offense, a culpable mental state may nevertheless be required for the commission of such offense, or with respect to some or all of the material elements thereof, if the proscribed conduct necessarily involves such culpable mental state. A statute defining a crime, unless clearly indicating a legislative intent to impose strict liability, should be construed as defining a crime with the culpability defined in paragraph b.(2) of this section. This provision applies to offenses defined both within and outside of this code.

d. Culpability as to illegality of conduct. Neither knowledge nor recklessness nor negligence as to whether conduct constitutes an offense or as to the existence, meaning or application of the law determining the elements of an offense is an element of such offense, unless the definition of the offense or the code so provides.

e. Culpability as determinant of grade of offense. When the grade or degree of an offense depends on whether the offense is committed purposely, knowingly, recklessly or criminally negligently, its grade or degree shall be the lowest for which the determinative kind of culpability is established with respect to any material element of the offense.

2C:2-3. Causal relationship between conduct and result; divergence between result designed, contemplated or risked and actual result

a. Conduct is the cause of a result when:

  1. It is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred; and
  2. The relationship between the conduct and result satisfies any additional causal requirements imposed by the code or by the law defining the offense.

b. When the offense requires that the defendant purposely or knowingly cause a particular result, the actual result must be within the design or contemplation, as the case may be, of the actor, or, if not, the actual result must involve the same kind of injury or harm as that designed or contemplated and not be too remote, accidental in its occurrence, or dependent on another’s volitional act to have a just bearing on the actor’s liability or on the gravity of his offense.

c. When the offense requires that the defendant recklessly or criminally negligently cause a particular result, the actual result must be within the risk of which the actor is aware or, in the case of criminal negligence, of which he should be aware, or, if not, the actual result must involve the same kind of injury or harm as the probable result and must not be too remote, accidental in its occurrence, or dependent on another’s volitional act to have a just bearing on the actor’s liability or on the gravity of his offense.

d. A defendant shall not be relieved of responsibility for causing a result if the only difference between what actually occurred and what was designed, contemplated or risked is that a different person or property was injured or affected or that a less serious or less extensive injury or harm occurred.

e. When causing a particular result is a material element of an offense for which absolute liability is imposed by law, the element is not established unless the actual result is a probable consequence of the actor’s conduct.

2C:2-4. Ignorance or mistake

a. Ignorance or mistake as to a matter of fact or law is a defense if the defendant reasonably arrived at the conclusion underlying the mistake and:

  1. It negatives the culpable mental state required to establish the offense; or
  2. The law provides that the state of mind established by such ignorance or mistake constitutes a defense.

b. Although ignorance or mistake would otherwise afford a defense to the offense charged, the defense is not available if the defendant would be guilty of another offense had the situation been as he supposed. In such case, however, the ignorance or mistake of the defendant shall reduce the grade and degree of the offense of which he may be convicted to those of the offense of which he would be guilty had the situation been as he supposed.

c. A belief that conduct does not legally constitute an offense is a defense to a prosecution for that offense based upon such conduct when:

  1. The statute defining the offense is not known to the actor and has not been published or otherwise reasonably made available prior to the conduct alleged; or
  2. The actor acts in reasonable reliance upon an official statement of the law, afterward determined to be invalid or erroneous, contained in (a) a statute, (b) judicial decision, opinion, judgment, or rule, (c) an administrative order or grant of permission, or (d) an official interpretation of the public officer or body charged by law with responsibility for the interpretation, administration or enforcement of the law defining the offense; or
  3. The actor otherwise diligently pursues all means available to ascertain the meaning and application of the offense to his conduct and honestly and in good faith concludes his conduct is not an offense in circumstances in which a law-abiding and prudent person would also so conclude.

The defendant must prove a defense arising under subsection c. of this section by clear and convincing evidence.

Depending on what the prosecution is able to prove about your culpability can have a significant impact on the charges and the criminal penalties you may be subjected to. A criminal defense lawyer can help you demonstrate that your actions should subject you to a different level of culpability than what the prosecution may be arguing.

It’s important to keep in mind that the law is constantly changing. Therefore, statutes listed here may not be operable due to unmet conditions or may have expired. It’s also possible that they have been ruled inoperable by a court, or have otherwise become inoperable. Therefore, you should not rely solely on the information presented.

If you are facing criminal investigation or charges, in order to protect your rights, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as is possible.

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