The De Minimis Statute (Part 4)

by | Nov 24, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Law Division continued in relevant part:

b. Impair or Debauch the Morals of the Child

Defendant further argues that this court must examine whether his message impaired or debauched the morals of an average seventeen-year-old in the community, rather than J.T. specifically. Using this standard, defendant argues that the morals of an average seventeen-year-old are “far from corrupted” by receiving “the 21st century version of a cat call.” In doing so, it appears that defendant presents the argument that J.T. is an overly sensitive child, and, because of this, her reaction to his message is irrelevant in determining whether he violated the “impair or debauch” standard. An average child, the court is told, would not have responded in the same way.

Again, the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(1) prohibits “conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child,” in this case, J.T. (emphasis added). Hackett held that the statute prohibits conduct that “would result in the impairing or debauching of an average child in the community.” Regardless of which standard is applied, defendant’s act was clearly prohibited by the statute.

  1. “The Child” Standard

Under the plain language of the statute, defendant’s message “impaired or debauched” J.T.’s morals. Despite defendant’s assertions to the contrary, J.T.’s reaction to his message is far from irrelevant in determining whether her morals were impaired or debauched, and, in fact, her actions upon receipt of the message clearly and unequivocally indicate that she was so affected. J.T., “the child,” was harmed by defendant’s conduct.

Seventeen-year-olds are unique in that it seems like a stretch to refer to them as “a child.” At the same time, it is also a stretch to refer to the alleged victim here as “a woman” or “an adult.” “Young woman” seems like the most appropriate nomenclature, even more so than “older child.”