Can I be charged with a crime if I didn’t know it was illegal in New Jersey?

Regardless of whether you did not know something is illegal, you can still be arrested and subject to harsh penalties. In most cases, ignorance of the law is no defense to criminal charges because most crimes do not require defendants to know their actions are unlawful. However, there are sometimes certain expectations. Nevertheless, this depends on the specific charge and circumstances as the legal system warrants “mistake of fact” as a defense, but not mistake of law.” If you have been charged with a crime but did not know that your actions were illegal, contact a skilled Bergen County Criminal Defense Attorney who can help defend your rights and interests. Please continue reading to learn when ignorance is a defense. 

Can I be arrested for a crime if I didn’t know what I was doing was illegal in New Jersey?

When charged with a crime, ignorance can be used as a defense if it can be proven that an individual lacked intent or made a mistake of fact. Certain crimes require intent, like theft or assault. If you were completely unaware of what was happening, lack of intent might be used as a defense, as your actions were unintentional.

Moreover, mistake of fact can also be used as a defense in cases of ignorance of the law. There are instances in which a person may claim that their mistakes were not as to the law but rather to the facts of a criminal act. For example, if you were charged with statutory rape, you may assert the defense that you did not know that your partner wasn’t old enough to consent as they may have lied about their age. In such situations, you are not arguing that they did not know having sex with a minor was illegal, but rather, they didn’t know how old their sexual partner was. Essentially, they are arguing the facts at hand, not the actual law itself. It is critical to note that a mistake of age or mistake of fact, in statutory rape cases, is not a viable defense in New Jersey.

However, if you happen to drive a black SUV that looks like many others, and one day you get distracted and mistakenly enter a vehicle that you think is yours, and drive off, only to realize later that you are in another person’s car. Still, the keys were left inside; you have unintentionally stolen someone else’s car. This can result in being charged with auto theft. The defense of mistake of fact can be used in such cases because they are not arguing that they didn’t know their actions were illegal, but they reasonably believed they owned the vehicle.

Unfortunately, there can be all kinds of misunderstandings that result in your conviction. If you have been arrested, but you did not know what you were doing was illegal, it is in your best interest to retain the legal services of a determined Bergen County criminal defense attorney from The Law Office of Carl Spector who can help you explore viable defense that can maximize your chances of preventing a criminal conviction and harsh penalties.