New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that part of the state's bias intimidation law, which the justices called the only one of its type in the nation, is unconstitutional.
The case involved a white public parks worker who, along with a white co-worker, locked a black co-worker in a cage for a few minutes as a joke. According to Tuesday's ruling, the victim said one of the men said, "You throw a banana in the cage and he goes right in."
One of the men was convicted of bias intimidation and official misconduct by a jury. An appeals court reversed the convictions but sent the case back for retrial.
Tuesday's Supreme Court decision reversed the convictions and ordered the trial court to enter that judgment. The high court held that the part of the law the defendant was charged under is too vague and violates due process protections under the Constitution.
The law in question makes it a crime if the victim believes the defendant committed the offense with the purpose to intimidate, regardless of whether the defendant actually had that purpose.
In a 6-0 opinion with one justice not participating, Justice Barry Albin wrote that the law "is sufficiently vague that a person of reasonable intelligence cannot discern the dividing line between criminal and lawful behavior."
Albin added that it is still against New Jersey law for a defendant to act "with the purpose to commit bias intimidation or with knowledge that his conduct constitutes bias intimidation."