This is the final post in a series on the mental culpability element in criminal law. The previous posts addressed the common law and the Model Penal Code (“MPC”). Those posts are available here, here, and here. This post, however, will discuss statutory reform and New Jersey’s adoption of the MPC in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. Furthermore, this post will focus on the General Requirements of Culpability under New Jersey law.
Criminal Law Revision Commission
In 1968, the New Jersey Legislature called for a special commission to revise its criminal code. The Legislature said, It shall be the duty of the commission to study and review the statutory law pertaining to crimes…and prepare a revision or revisions thereof for enactment by the Legislature.1
Indeed, the Criminal Law Revision Commission was aware of a crisis with regard to respect for law. We must be sure our criminal statutes do not add to it, breeding contempt for law and disrespect for the enforcers of it, by being anachronistic or hypocritical.2
Consequently, the Commission’s final product became the state’s first comprehensive penal code.
The principal problems with the state’s penal code consisted of disorganization, inconsistent legislative policy, and reliance on case law for fundamental principles. Thus, the Commission explained,
[o]ur statutes now only define the elements of the offenses… We have almost no statutes relating to the general part of the criminal law…for example, to principles of liability… Presently, this is found in our case law… Modernization and rationalization compel enactment of statutory law on topics relating to culpability…3
Relying heavily upon the MPC and the work of some other States, the Commission submitted its final draft to the Governor and the Legislature in 1971. Subsequently, after study and further revision, the New Jersey Legislature enacted the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (“Code”) in Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated in 1979.4
Goals and Solutions
One goal of the Code consisted of achieving social control by defining criminal conduct. Additionally, the Code intended to achieve greater individual justice through the culpability provisions. Furthermore, the Code intended to establish a rational statutory framework.
The culpability provisions of the MPC are substantially similar to the Code. The Commission explained, “[t]he purpose of articulating these distinctions in detail is to promote the clarity of definitions of specific crimes and to dispel the obscurity with which the culpability requirement is often treated when concepts such as ‘general criminal intent,’ ‘mens rea,’…and the like are used.”5
General Requirements of Culpability, N.J.S.A. 2c:2-2
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. Additionally, 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. Furthermore, “with purpose,” “designed,” “with design” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.6
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. Additionally, 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. Furthermore, “knowing,” “with knowledge” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.7
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. Additionally, 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. Furthermore, “recklessness,” “with recklessness” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.8
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. Additionally, 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. Furthermore, “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.9
Departure from the MPC
The MPC and the Code have the General Requirements of Culpability in common. But the Code departs from the MPC in at least one respect. Not including strict liability statutes, knowledge is inferred in statutes that do not expressly state the culpability requirement under the Code.10 But by the MPC, the culpability provision for recklessness is inferred.11
1 See L. 1968, c. 281, § 4, N.J.S.A. 1:19-4 (repealed 1978) (cited in N.J. Criminal Law Revision Commission, 1 Final Report: Report and Penal Code v (1971)).
2 N.J. Criminal Law Revision Commission, 1 Final Report: Report and Penal Code viii (1971).
3 Id. at viii – ix.
4 State v. Molnar, 81 N.J. 475, 487 (1980).
5 N.J. Criminal Law Revision Commission, 2 Final Report: Report and Penal Code 40-41 (1971).
6 N.J.S.A. 2c:2-2(b)(1)
7 N.J.S.A. 2c:2-2(b)(2)
8 N.J.S.A. 2c:2-2(b)(3)
9 N.J.S.A. 2c:2-2(b)(4)
10 N.J.S.A. 2c:2-2(c)(3)
11 MPC § 2.02(3) (1962).
New Jersey Criminal Attorney Michael Smolensky, Esquire, knows how to protect his clients. Mr. Smolensky can provide consultations for all cases involving criminal charges in New Jersey. Call Now—(856) 812-0321.