Sexual Assault Involving Minors

The New Jersey Appellate Division strengthened the law prohibiting sexual crimes against children in a recent decision regarding the State’s burden of proof.

On appeal from a case in Mercer County, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that State need only show that a defendant acted with a “knowing” state of mind when he committed an act of sexual assault against a child, and not necessarily when he “impaired or debauched” the morals of a child.

The Court reasoned:

The “knowingly” state of mind is found to be a mandatory requirement for the first element of the offense, “engages in sexual conduct,” the mens rea element would not automatically be a mandatory requirement of the second element, “would impair or debauch the morals of the child.” Stated differently, because N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2(c)(3) specifies that the gap filler statute applies to “some or all” of the elements of the offense, it is possible for the mental culpability requirement to be satisfied by proof only that the defendant knowingly engaged in sexual conduct.

The result of this ruling is a strengthened prohibition against criminal sexual contact involving children.  In situations involving explicit sexual contact, it would be no defense that defendant did not knowingly intend to debauch or impair the morals of a child.  The Court, however, left open the possibility of this defense being raised in cases where there was no sexual contact such as in instances of child pornography or indecent exposure.

This case, State v. Bryant, A-1480-09T4, has been approved for publication as of March 3, 2011.