Criminal Law, Pages 198–203

People v. Marrero

New York Court of Appeals, 1987

Facts:

Defendant, a corrections officer, mistakenly thought that he could carry a gun at his job due to misunderstanding the statute.

Procedural History:

  • Defendant was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.

  • Appellate Division affirmed.

Issue:

Is defendant's misunderstanding of the statute a defense for him?

Reasoning:

The statute violated does not require that one intend to violate it. While an exception exists for interpretations of the law based on official statements, this is a very narrow defense which defendant personally interpreting the law incorrectly does not satisfy. This requires that an interpretation be "officially made or issued by a public servant, agency, or body charged or empowered with the responsibility or administering, enforcing, or interpreting such statute or law." It is intended for the case where the government misleads someone as to what is legally permissible, not for a mistake originating in one's own mind. Allowing such a thing would encourage mistakes about the law and lead to contrivances to exculpate criminals.

Note:

Basically, a court or district attorney or something has to officially say that something is the law.

Holding:

Mistake of law is not a defense for defendant. Affirmed.

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