What is Ignorance of the Law in New Jersey?

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Of all the defenses you may want to use, ignorance of the law is quite limited in its applications. It may work in your case, but be aware that you will need a particularly skillful attorney. Beginning with the fear that ignorance of the law is impossible to truthfully prove because everyone can lie about their knowledge, from their perspective, courts have many reasons to distrust an ignorance of the law defense. Keep reading to learn how the legal concept of state of mind may help your case. Get in touch with a Mercer County criminal defense lawyer if you’ve been charged with a crime. Douglas Herring has experience on both sides of the court, and he’ll use his years of experience as a prosecutor to fight hard for you.

State of Mind and Ignorance of the Law

Someone may well have good luck arguing that they committed a mistake of fact, where they allege that there was a material fact of which they had no knowledge, and that whether a law was violated hinges on the intersection of this unknown fact and the defendant’s state of mind. In this case, the rationale would be that someone should not be guilty of a crime they never intended to commit. If their lack of knowledge negates the requisite state of mind, they may be successful.

In New Jersey, state of mind can be purposeful, knowing, reckless, or negligent. There are crimes where an individual cannot be found guilty unless they have a state of mind that accords with the crime.

A purposeful state of mind means that, when someone takes an action, they consciously want to do that action or bring about a result from that action that they anticipate. Similarly, a knowing state of mind means the individual knows what kind of action they took or at minimum knew it was extremely likely that a specific result would come of that action.

In contrast, someone has a reckless state of mind when they knowingly ignore how very likely it is that a specific result will come from their action. A negligent state of mind is close but distinct from a reckless one. This last state of mind occurs when someone takes an action despite a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the alleged offense would result from that action.

On the other hand, it is very hard to successfully argue that someone made a mistake of law, where they claim to be unaware of what the law says. This claim would require the defendant to prove by clear and convincing evidence that:

  • They didn’t know about the law in question and that law hadn’t been made reasonably available by the government before they committed the accused offense,
  • They had reasonably relied on prior official statements about the law which then turned out to be incorrect,
  • Or they acted diligently and reasonably to determine if they had committed an offense, in the sincere belief that their action wasn’t illegal

If you’ve been accused of committing a crime of any kind, please don’t hesitate to contact a seasoned Mercer County criminal defense lawyer from the Law Office of Douglas Herring today.

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