People v. Marrero, 69 N.Y. 2d 382

Case Name: People v. Marrero
Citation: 69 N.Y. 2d 382

Facts: Marrero, a federal corrections officer, was arrested for unlicensed possession of a loaded handgun. The statute exempted “peace officers” which included “corrections officers of any state correctional facility or of any penal correctional institution.” After a successful pretrial motion to dismiss, the Appellate Division reinstated the indictment, holding that Marrero was not a “peace officer.” Marrero was then tried and convicted before a jury after the trial court rejected his request for a jury instruction that it would be a good defense if he reasonably believed that the statutory exemption for peace officers applied to him as a federal correctional officer.

Issue: Whether the defendant’s personal misreading or misunderstanding of a statute may excuse criminal conduct in the circumstances of this case.

Defendant’s argument:  The jury should have received an instruction about his reasonable belief that the statutory exemption applied to him was a good defense.

State’s argument: The common law has clearly established that “mistake of law” does not relieve a defendant of criminal liability.

Holding: Conviction upheld.

Reasoning: In addition to the common law view, if Marrero’s argument was accepted, “the exception would swallow the rule. Mistakes about the law would be encouraged…there would be an infinite number of mistake of law defenses.” The crime only required general intent.

Dissent: The majority adopts an Utilitarian view. The criminal justice system is supposed to punish blameworthiness or “choosing freely to do wrong.” The defendant acted innocently and with any intent to do wrong and should not be punished. Furthermore, the dissent disagreed with the majority’s construction of the penal statute.

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  1. Mistake of Law | Criminal Law | MiB Law - [...] Even if the defendant’s mistake was reasonable, mistake of law is not a valid defense. (See People v. Marrero). …

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