On August 4, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the case of State v. Juan E. Cruz-Pena. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1 was whether confining a victim on a porch for hours was incidental to the underlying sexual assault or whether it could support a kidnapping conviction.
Justice Albin wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: We now distill the principles from Masino, La France, and Jackson, as well as from the commentaries to the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice and the commentaries to the Model Penal Code, and apply them to the evidence in this case.
Defendant confined C.M. on the covered porch of an abandoned house at knifepoint for approximately four to five hours in the early morning dark leading to sunrise. During those terrifying hours, he punched her so hard that her body crashed against a wall, causing a head wound and blood to course over her face. He punched her again later for bleeding on him. He sexually assaulted her repeatedly over those hours, forcing her to perform oral sex and penetrating her vaginally and anally, and invited his friend to penetrate her anally. He ignored her pleas to stop, took money from her, cut off her clothes, leaving her exposed, and threatened to return every night to “pimp” her.
The sheer duration of the confinement and the number of depraved and violent acts committed against her far exceeded the scenarios in Masino, La France, and Jackson, in which we upheld kidnapping convictions. C.M. was isolated on a porch in the early morning dark — confined by brute force and terrifying violence. The risk of harm attendant upon isolation is the principal danger of kidnapping.” She was not only subject to an “enhanced risk of harm,” one of the defining characteristics of kidnapping by confinement, but she was harmed by the multitude of criminal acts committed against her.
The facts of this case create a concern for a results-oriented decision against the defendant. The Appellate Division should be praised for their ability to conduct an objective analysis notwithstanding any reasonable person’s inclination to want to secure the maximum penalty against this defendant.