Criminal Law, Pages 185–191

State v. Sexton

Supreme Court of New Jersey, 1999

Facts:

Defendant was having a typical argument with decedent Matthews in a vacant lot. Matthews had given defendant a gun and told him that there were no bullets in it. Defendant then accidentally shot Matthews. Defendant had never used a gun before, and the gun was defective so that it could be loaded without being easily detectable by someone unfamiliar with them.

Procedural History:

  • A grand jury indicted defendant for purposeful or knowing murder, possession of a handgun without a permit, and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose. The court denied a motion to dismiss because the victim told defendant that the gun was not loaded and charged him with murder, aggravated manslaughter, and reckless manslaughter. The jury found defendant guilty only of reckless manslaughter and unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit.

  • The Appellate Division reversed.

Issue:

Was defendant reckless in causing Matthews's death if he mistakenly thought the gun was unloaded?

Rule:

While mistake of fact is not really a defense, it does relate to whether an essential element of the charged offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Holding:

Defendant was reckless in causing Matthews's death if he was reckless in forming the belief that the gun was not loaded. Affirmed.


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