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State. v. Juan E. Cruz- Pena: NJ Supreme Court Tackles “Substantial Period” Element in Kidnapping

— November 16, 2021

This case also demonstrates a common issue in law – not everything is black and white; there is a lot of gray area.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey decided this case on August 4, 2020.  This Court has the highest legal authority in the state.  A court has the power to interpret a statute (law passed by a legislature).  This case involved the Court interpreting a criminal statute concerning kidnapping.

Defendant Cruz Pena had been convicted of kidnapping, in addition to other charges.  The criminal statute for kidnapping is “a person is guilty of kidnapping if he unlawfully removes another….a substantial distance from the vicinity where he is found, or  unlawfully confines another for a substantial period”.

Victim, C.M.,  was subjected to horrific sexual assault.  Defendant, Mr. Cruz-Pena, was upset with her friend.  Mr. Cruz-Pena held a knife to C.M.’s neck, and made her perform various sexual acts.  Mr. Cruz-Pena then sexually assaulted her,  and enticed someone else to do so.  This lasted about four or  five hours, and took place on a covered  porch.  This torment ended, only when a neighbor walked by and C.M. was able to escape.

The appellate court had reversed the kidnapping conviction.  That court determined that the “substantial period” requirement had not been met.  They considered C.M.’s detainment as “merely incidental” to the sexual assault.

The N.J. Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court.  They found that sexually abusing and assaulting a victim, while detaining her for four to five hours, is sufficient to meet the “substantial period” requirement of the kidnapping statute.   The lengthy confinement was not merely incidental to the crime. The Court stated that the statute “must be read in a sensible manner and not taken to an illogical conclusion. “ The Court reinstated the kidnapping conviction, and remanded (returned) to the Appellate Division defendant’s previous challenge to his sentence.

Maine Man & His Uncle Sentenced for Hate Crimes
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While this fact pattern is unusual in the sense that most detentions of others will be much shorter or much longer so there will be less, or no, question about whether the time was a substantial period, it is nonetheless important to have guideposts for the situations that are similar in duration to this case. This case also demonstrates a common issue in law – not everything is black and white; there is a lot of gray area. Cases in the gray areas are the ones in which skilled and creative lawyering may make the greatest difference. 

If you or someone you know is charged with a crime in the State of New Jersey, call the Law Office of Eric M. Mark for a free consultation. At the Law Office of Eric M. Mark, we pride ourselves on creative thinking by finding the gray areas and using those to our clients’ best interests.

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