New Jersey has certain laws on the books that are little used and whose intent, on their face, isn’t entirely clear.
For instance, a law that prohibits the possession of controlled dangerous substances has an obvious purpose and penalties.
This statute makes it a crime to knowingly violate a law intended to protect public health and safety, or to knowingly fail to perform a duty that protects public health and safety.
One can imagine a variety of scenarios where the law could apply, such as when a municipal utility employee does something or fails to do something that releases dangerous chemicals into the environment or causes a significant interruption to services that endangers public safety.
How the law has actually been used, at least in one instance, has been controversial.
In a 2012 case, an 18-year-old was charged under 2C:40-18 after a 16-year-old passenger in the car she was driving died when the car crashed.
The theory of the case was that seatbelt laws are designed to protect public health and safety and that she, an adult driver, was legally obligated to ensure that any minor passengers were properly belted.
She ran the risk of spending up to a decade in prison.
The way the penalties in the law are structured is based on the result of the knowing action or knowing failure to a duty, and when a person is killed because of the conduct, the crime is of the second degree, with a five to ten year prison sentence for conviction.
If a person suffers serious bodily injury as a result of the conduct, the charge is third degree, with a three to five year prison sentence possible, but also a presumption of non-incarceration in many cases.
If a victim suffers significant bodily injury, the charge is of the fourth degree, with an 18 month sentence possible for conviction.
The young woman in this case, Kirby Lenihan, was able to negotiate through her lawyers with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to violating 2C:40-18 as a third degree crime.
She was sentenced under the terms of her plea agreement to 180 days in custody and three years of probation.
The case, and the apparent expansion of prosecutorial powers that it represents, is a good example of how an experienced legal team can have a big impact on the ultimate outcome of a criminal case.
Prosecutors initially sought to charge Lenihan with a second degree crime that could have put her in prison for a decade, but she ended up serving less than six months and spending the rest of her sentence in the community and with her family.
If you’ve been charged with any crime in New Jersey, get help right away.
Call Matthew Reisig today at 732-625-9661 for a free consultation with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer.