Changes To Be Made To The Bias Crime Statute

by | Apr 4, 2015 | Blog, Criminal Law, Law Reform and Amendments

In State v. David T. Pomianek, Jr. , which the New Jersey Supreme Court decided on March 17, 2015, Justice Albin, writing for a unanimous Court, addressed the issue of the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1(a)(3), a bias-crime statute that allows a jury to convict a defendant even when bias did not motivate the commission of the offense.

The facts giving rise to the case involved Gloucester Township employees working at an old storage garage. In the garage was a steel cage. In a “ruse”, one of the white co-defendants approached the lone black employee present and told him that their supervisor needed an item from the cage. Once inside the cage, a co-defendant locked the black employee inside.

The black employee recalled a co-defendant saying, “Oh, you see, you throw a banana in the cage and he goes right in.”   The black employee considered the remark to be racially-motivated.   The cage door was unlocked after three to five minutes.  The black employee felt humiliated and embarrassed.

Defendant was ultimately charged with and found guilty of two fourth-degree bias-intimidation crimes, among other offenses.

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that a portion of our state’s bias intimidation statute is unconstitutional because it was based upon the victim’s, not the actor’s, mind state.  While the Appellate Division (the court above the trial court, but below the state supreme court) remedy was to add a knowing mind state requirement into the statute, the Supreme Court disagreed with that remedy.  Because the Appellate Division’s rewriting of the subsection was beyond judicial authority, the Supreme Court held that the section of the statute that allowed for conviction based upon the victim’s mind state was unconstitutional and no longer valid.