Kidnapping and Jury Verdict Sheets (Part 4)

by | Oct 18, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The majority continued in relevant part: This appeal presents a stark contrast to those cases. Here, it is undisputed that the three victims were left in their home with their hands tied behind their backs — the father forced into the basement and his daughters in an upstairs room. Defendant “released” none of them within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1(c).

Defendant argues that the evidence provided a rational basis for a jury verdict of guilty on the charge of second-degree kidnapping because the adult male victim managed to free himself, and then free his daughters, after defendant left their home. For the provision to apply, however, it must be “the actor” in the kidnapping — not a police officer, not a bystander, and not the victim himself — who releases the victim. In this case, the adult victim’s fortuitous opportunity to free himself and his daughters after defendant’s departure does not support a second-degree kidnapping verdict.

Notwithstanding the lack of a rational basis for a guilty verdict on second-degree kidnapping, defendant asserts that the question posed by the jury indicates that the jury would have convicted him of that charge had the verdict sheet provided a place to record such a verdict. We disagree. Without reference to the crime of kidnapping or any other specific offense, the jury asked only how it would “denote second-degree on a charge in the verdict book.” Its inquiry could have pertained to many of the charges pending against defendant. We decline to speculate about the meaning of that question.

Here, the majority speculates that the jury could not have inferred that the defendant intentionally left the victims capable of releasing themselves. This would be akin to the defendant releasing them. At the same time, the majority “declines to speculate” about the meaning of one of the jury’s related questions.