New Jersey League of Municipalities

The Criminal Consequences of Public Office

Many individuals seek public office with the genuine intent of trying to effectuate positive change. Although only a small percentage of elected officials ever engage in actual criminal behavior, it is imperative that all officials remain aware of precisely what constitutes criminal conduct to ensure that they never cross over the line.

The New Jersey Criminal Code (N.J.S.A 2C:1-1 et seq.) contains a number of offenses which are specifically directed at public officials and/or employees. Although this article is not intended as an exhaustive treatment of all state law on this subject, it will hopefully provide a working knowledge of the major acts or omissions which may give rise to criminal culpability.

Official Misconduct (N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2) A public servant commits official misconduct if with a purpose to obtain a benefit for himself or herself or another (or to injure or deprive another of a benefit) he or she knowingly commits an act relating to his or her office constituting an unauthorized exercise of official functions: or knowingly refrains from performing a duty which is imposed by law and is clearly inherent in the nature of the office. The “benefit” obtained may be of minimal value. Investigation Into Hamilton T.P. Board of Education 205 N.J. Super. 248 (App. Div.1985). This also includes benefits not received by the public official but rather by a third party. State v. Schenkolewski 301 N.J.Super.115 (App. Div.), cert. den.151 N.J. Super. (1977). To violate this section, the individual must be a public servant and the act must relate to the office. State v. Bullock 136 N.J. 149 (1994).