STATE V. WORTHY

This is an audio case brief of State v. Worthy : 746 A.2d 1063 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2000) The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.

Table of Contents

FACTS

On November 28, 1996, at approximately 11:30 p.m., While K.B. and her friend, Wakeen Conover,  were in Conover’s vehicle, which was parked in K.B’s sisters house, defendant Brian Worthy suddenly appeared and got into the driver’s seat. Conover ran back into the house. KB. testified that she attempted to jump out of the vehicle, but was restrained by Worthy. Worthy then drove the vehicle away at approximately thirty-five to forty miles per hour while K.B.’s feet were scraping along the street.

K.B.’s brother chased Worthy in his own vehicle. According to K.B., during the chase she asked to be returned to her sister’s home. Worthy responded that he would do so once her brother-in-law, who was also following them, stopped the chase. K.B. testified that Worthy proceeded throughout the neighborhood at approximately twenty-five to thirty miles per hour for approximately thirty minutes. Eventually, Worthy returned K.B. to his sisters home.

K.B. acknowledged that she was testifying because her parents threatened that if she did not, a warrant would be issued for her arrest. She admitted that on the day of the episode she had been with Worthy earlier and that Worthy had paged her on her beeper. She also acknowledged that after the episode she explained to the police and the prosecutor’s office that Worthy had not threatened her or forced her “to do anything” while they were in the vehicle.

According to Worthy’s testimony, on the day of the incident K.B. attempted to page him. She later called him and gave him directions to her sister’s house. When Worthy arrived at the house, he got into Conover’s vehicle with K.B. The vehicle was running and in gear and began to “buck just like a horse” while his left leg was still outside the vehicle. He asked K.B. to get into the car and close the door for her safety. During the “bucking,” the vehicle did not exceed seven miles per hour.

Following the incident, Worthy was charged with and convicted of third degree criminal restraint under N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2,  : Person commits a crime of the third degree if he knowingly: a. Restrains another unlawfully in circumstances exposing the other to risk of serious bodily injury.

At the close of the instruction, defense counsel took issue with the trial court’s failure to make clear that the requisite mental state of knowledge applied to all three elements.

For this reason, Worthy appealed his conviction.

ISSUE

The issue before the court is whether the district court improperly instructed the jury by failing to make it clear that the “term” knowingly applied to all the material elements of the offense.

RULE

Because “knowingly” is part of the introductory sentence of the statute, the Legislature no doubt intended that the “knowing” mental state applies to each of the elements in subparagraph a; that is, he knowingly restrains, he knows the restraint is unlawful, and knows that the restraint is under circumstances exposing the victim to serious bodily injury.

Additionally NJ statute 2C: 2-2c(1) provides that”[w]hen the law defining an offense prescribes the kind of culpability that is sufficient for the commission of an offense, without distinguishing among the material elements thereof, such provision shall apply to all the material elements of the offense, unless a contrary purpose plainly appears.

Further, any ambiguity as to whether “knowingly” was intended to apply to each element of the offense is clarified by reference to other provisions of the Criminal Code. N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2a provides that “[e]xcept as provided in subsection c.(3) of this section, a person is not guilty of an offense unless he acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently, as the law may require, with respect to each material element of the offense.”

APPLICATION

With a proper instruction the jury could well have found that defendant’s conduct constituted a knowing and unlawful restraint, but that he had not knowingly exposed the victim to the risk of serious bodily injury. “A person acts knowingly with respect to a result of his conduct if he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result.” N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2b(2). Defendant testified that when he entered the vehicle it was already in gear. It began to “buck just like a horse” while his left leg was still outside the vehicle. He then asked K.B. to “[s]hut the door. You’re going to hurt yourself[,]” suggesting concern for her safety because of the erratic nature of the vehicle’s movement. According to defendant, at the time the vehicle was “buck[ing]” he was proceeding at approximately six to seven miles per hour and during the ensuing drive he was proceeding at approximately twenty miles per hour before he dropped off K.B. K.B. testified  that she attempted to explain to the police that defendant had not threatened her or forced her “to do anything.” On these facts, the jury may have concluded defendant was not aware that it “was practically certain” that his conduct exposed K.B. to the risk of serious bodily injury.

CONCLUSION

Worthy’s conviction was reversed, and his case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial.

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