Spencer, Benson & Muoio Bill to Strengthen Current Endangerment Laws Heads to Gov's Desk

Legislation sponsored by L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex), Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) and Elizabeth Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) that consolidates and toughens current laws dealing with the endangerment of other persons received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk. 

The bill was prompted by the case of Parker Drake, a Howell teen with autism who was coaxed into jumping off the Manasquan jetty and into the freezing waters by another two men back in February. The two men were not charged after local law enforcement said there were no criminal statutes that applied. Parker's mother eventually filed a complaint against them for disorderly conduct. 

Under current law, reckless endangerment is a crime of the fourth degree and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person is a disorderly persons offense. This bill (A-4531) creates more comprehensive criminal offenses involving endangering another person to replace these statutes.

 

Legislation sponsored by L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex), Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) and Elizabeth Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) that consolidates and toughens current laws dealing with the endangerment of other persons received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk.

The bill was prompted by the case of Parker Drake, a Howell teen with autism who was coaxed into jumping off the Manasquan jetty and into the freezing waters by another two men back in February. The two men were not charged after local law enforcement said there were no criminal statutes that applied. Parker's mother eventually filed a complaint against them for disorderly conduct.

Under current law, reckless endangerment is a crime of the fourth degree and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person is a disorderly persons offense. This bill (A-4531) creates more comprehensive criminal offenses involving endangering another person to replace these statutes.

"If not for the tenacity of this young man's mother, the two men who targeted her son would have gone unpunished for their actions. We cannot have situations where individuals who endanger the lives of others get to walk away without the slightest punishment because of what amounts to a technicality," said Spencer. "This bill provides a more comprehensive approach to our endangerment laws to help ensure that scenarios like the one faced by the Drake family do not happen again."

"Whether intentional or not, putting someone's well-being at risk is irresponsible and dangerous," said Benson. "In this day and age when people will put themselves and others in precarious situations just so they can post it online, adding these criminal offenses ensures those who endanger others are held liable for their actions."

"There is no deterring this behavior if an individual can put another person's life at risk with no consequences," said Muoio. "This behavior is especially troublesome when the victim is targeted because of a disability. Putting someone in danger for the fun of it is no laughing matter. This bill ensures that these types of crimes don't go unpunished and that victims get the justice they deserve."

Under the bill, it would be a disorderly persons offense to recklessly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person; a fourth degree crime to knowingly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person; and a third degree crime to knowingly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death to another person. The bill upgrades the offense if the victim has a developmental disability.

Under the bill, it would be a crime of the fourth degree to recklessly engage in conduct which creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to a person with a developmental disability; a third degree crime to knowingly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to a person with a developmental disability; and a second degree crime to knowingly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death to a person with a developmental disability.

The bill defines developmental disability as "a severe, chronic disability of a person which":
-is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental or physical impairments;
-is manifest before age 22;
-is likely to continue indefinitely;
results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity, that is, self-care, ---------receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction and capacity for independent living or economic self-sufficiency; and
-reflects the need for a combination and sequence of special inter-disciplinary or generic care, treatment or other services which are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated. Developmental disability includes, but is not limited to severe disabilities attributable to, an intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida and other neurological impairments where the above criteria are met."
The bill repeals N.J.S.2C:12-2, Reckless Endangerment, and N.J.S.2C:24-7, Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent Person, as these statutes would be encompassed in the provisions of the bill's new criminal offenses.

The bill's provisions apply to all offenses committed on or after the effective date of the act. Pursuant to R.S.1:1-15 and N.J.S.2C:1-1, any offenses committed prior to the effective date of the act would be prosecuted under the prior law, which shall be continued in effect for that purpose.

The bill was approved 65-1 by the Assembly, and 34-0 by the Senate in July.