Explaining the De Minimus Infraction in New Jersey
The de minimis infraction statute is a part of New Jersey law that allows a judge to dismiss charges if the conduct of the defendant falls into certain circumstances. It is rarely used by criminal defense attorneys in New Jersey, but if it applies it can be an effective method to help a defendant in his or her case. The fundamental principle behind this New Jersey law is to separate serious from trivial matters and eliminate an unnecessary prosecution from the court’s docket. A de minimis infraction ruling prevents a waste of time for the court, prosecutors, defense counsel and the individual who might have a reasonable explanation for the act that is technically against the law, but was not undertaken with malicious or illegal intent.
When can the De Minimis Infraction be Used?
There are three instances in which the de minimis infraction doctrine can be utilized in New Jersey. Under statute N.J.S.A. 2C:2-11, a judge may dismiss a prosecution as a de minimis infraction if:
- The infraction was within a customary license or tolerance and is not expressly negated by the individual whose interest was infringed upon and was not inconsistent with the law that defines the offense.
- The act was too trivial to be worth the time necessary to prosecute the case or the defendant didn’t intend to break the law or commit the crime that the law was formulated to prevent.
- There are extenuating circumstances that were not envisioned by the legislature when they made the act illegal. In other words, if it’s a crime that lawmakers thought a person would reasonably commit because it’s not worth it to them to do so, this particular reason for dismissing the case can be used by the judge. In this situation, the judge must allow the prosecution notice and the opportunity to present their case. The prosecution will then have the right to appeal the decision to dismiss the case.
Situations that Might be Applicable for De Minimus Infraction
In many instances, the judge and the prosecutor will have a difference of opinion on the validity of a charge. The prosecutor may be using the criminal complaint and subsequent prosecution in what could be perceived as a frivolous and wasteful way. For example, if a person is charged with a crime when it was merely an honest mistake and no intent to commit the crime was evident, the case can be dismissed based on de minimus infraction. If a person believed an item in a store such as a cup of coffee was free and it really wasn’t, or the item was mistakenly believed to be part of an advertised deal (buy one get one free) and the accused took something that they were actually supposed to pay for, technically it was a crime, but the spirit of the law and the true intentions of the accused make it possible that the judge will consider it a de minimus infraction and dismiss the charges. The trivial nature vs. the serious nature of a crime is highly relevant in circumstances such as this.
An Experienced Attorney can Help with the De Minimus Infraction
The de minimus infraction statute is a complex part of New Jersey law, but it might very well be applicable to your case and help you avoid the time and trouble of going through a criminal complaint and running the risk of conviction, fines, jail time or any other potential issue that arises from a crime—intentionally committed or not.
Because the de minimus infraction is such a narrow interpretation of the law and can be left up to the judge to determine how applicable it is, an experienced attorney such as the lawyers at Villani & DeLuca in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey can help with navigating the complicated method to defend a prosecution. The case might be dismissed if you or your loved one did little more than make a mistake or have misinterpreted a situation, but did not willfully set out to break the law.
If you or a loved one has been arrested in Monmouth County or Ocean County or in any New Jersey town from Belmar to Toms River, you need to know your rights and have the best possible defense attorneys on your side to look out for your interests. The lawyers at Villani & DeLuca are here to help you with your defense. Call today to set up an appointment.