Official Misconduct brings to mind corrupt public officials or servants embezzling or abusing their office in some fashion; and this can often be the case. However, in New Jersey, the laws do not only apply to those persons who work for the state government. They can also include anyone who is performing a public function, even unpaid volunteers. The following is a partial list of who can be charged:
Persons Who Can Be Charged
- Police officers
- The governor and members of his or her cabinet
- Consultants performing in a public function
- Any other person performing a public function
The offense is considered a crime and any public servant is urged to contact a criminal defense lawyer if alleged to have committed an act considered official misconduct.
Elements of the Crime Official Misconduct
For a public official or servant to be charged with misconduct certain criteria must be met as follows:
- The offender was a public servant.
- The purpose of the act is to obtain a benefit for himself or another or to injure or to deprive another of a benefit.
- The act related to the public servant’s office.
- The act was not authorized, and knowingly performed without permission.
- The act can also include the non-commission of an act or a duty that the servant knowingly failed to perform and which he or she was obligated to perform under law.
The range of offenders and actions that may constitute misconduct are broad, however here are some common situations:
- A volunteer firefighter who sets off false alarms
- An off-duty policeman who shoplifts while employed as a security guard
- A government official accepting a bribe.
Official Misconduct is a crime of the second degree in New Jersey. It can be reduced to a crime of the third degree if the benefit obtained or sought is valued at $200 or less.
Further, a conviction can lead to loss of current and future public employment and of any pension or other state benefits that would have accrued upon retirement.
When accused of official misconduct, defendants face a serious charge and require a sound defense. A public official or servant facing prosecution should retain the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney in order to protect their rights and ensure the best possible outcome. Attorneys in such cases will craft a defense to the particulars of your case, however common defenses include:
- The defendant was unaware that the act was unauthorized.
- Violation of the statute of limitations.
- The official was not engaged in an act related to his or her office.
- Procedural and constitutional defenses such as violation of search and seizure laws, discovery and right to an attorney.
- Sloppy investigation work by law enforcement
- Impugning the credibility of witnesses
These are just some defenses that legal counsel can offer for your defense.
For any public servant arrested, regardless of social or political stature, it is important not to mention your position or status, but to immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer. Offering to make a statement that you believe will exonerate you could be disastrous for your case and damage any defenses you may have.
Refrain from making any comments to anyone, even on the phone, as law enforcement does monitor and tape phone calls.
A charge of official misconduct can irreversibly affect your reputation and your future. Contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately if charged to fully understand your legal options.