AG Guidelines and Strict Liability (Part 2)

by | Feb 13, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: The only actions able to break the causal link in strict liability crimes are those that are so remote or unforeseeable as to forgive the defendant’s culpability. That a police officer would pursue a defendant recklessly driving a stolen vehicle, in a manner that failed to comport with preferred police behavior, is far from remote or unforeseeable. A police-related injury in the pursuit of a criminal is a risk created by that criminal, and we should not allow him to escape liability for his behavior. To hold otherwise would be inconsistent with the statutory framework and sound case law. Unquestionably, Schubert’s injury was the direct consequence of defendant’s actions.

Because defendant eluded the police, creating a risk and resulting in Schubert’s injury, defendant violated the aggravated assault while eluding statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(6). Police deviation from preferred procedure or mandated Guidelines is not a remote or unforeseeable intervening cause of the harm. Nothing Schubert did in his pursuit broke the chain of causation nor provided defendant with a cognizable defense.

Given the trial court’s weighing of the applicable statutes and case law, it aptly concluded that “the probative value of the Guidelines is limited as it relates to the causation element” because the issue of causation is not about whether defendant created a risk of harm and caused an injury due to his own conduct, but due to the act of fleeing itself. And, allowing the Guidelines in as evidence would “not aid the trier of fact in reaching a conclusion on the causation element and instead presents a significant risk of confusing or misleading the jury.” Under the circumstances, we agree with the trial court’s interpretation of the relevant statutes and case law in preemptively barring defendant from introducing the Guidelines as evidence to the contrary.

An alternative argument that the defense could make is that the police willfully disregarded the Attorney General’s Guidelines along with willfully disregarding a reasonable standard of care in pursuing the defendant’s vehicle. The related argument would be that while reckless conduct on the part of the police may be foreseeable, purposeful conduct by the police under the circumstances is an unforeseeable and intervening cause of the injury at issue. Even then, the Court would likely require that the officer purposely caused the injury as opposed to purposely disregarding a reasonable standard of care.