manslaughter requires that the accused have committed a homicide "recklessly." Section 2C:11-4b, N.J. Stat. Ann. State law provides that a person acts recklessly "when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk" that his conduct would cause injury in a way that demonstrates "a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person" would observe in similar circumstances. Section 2C:2-2, N.J. Stat. Ann. Thus, one acts recklessly when he acts unreasonably and while aware that he is ignoring an obvious danger.
The relevant portion of the New Jersey statute on mistake provides that "Ignorance or mistake as to a matter of fact or law is a defense if the defendant reasonably arrived at the conclusion underlying the mistake and. . . it negatives the culpable mental state required to establish the offense." Section 2C:2-4a, N.J. Stat. Ann.
It is clear that under New Jersey law recklessness and mistake of fact have a mirror relationship analogous to that of the mental states at issue in Mullaney v. Wilber ; they are "two inconsistent things; thus by proving the latter the defendant would negate the former," 421 U.S. 684 at 686-87. A showing that the actor made a reasonable mistake would establish that he did not act recklessly.
In the case before us, in advancing the argument that he had reasonably believed that the gun was unloaded when he pulled its trigger, petitioner had raised a defense whose proof would negate the mental element necessary to constitute manslaughter. Thus, under Mullaney he should have borne only the burden of raising the issue, not that of proving it. The state was required to refute this defense beyond a reasonable doubt as an inseparable part of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner had acted recklessly and thus was guilty of manslaughter. By shifting to petitioner the burden of proving his defense by a preponderance of the evidence, the trial court unconstitutionally relieved the state of its burden of proving all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
This violation of his constitutional rights entitles petitioner to a new trial. The writ of habeas corpus shall issue.
For the reasons set forth in the court's letter-opinion filed herewith,
It is on this 14 day of September, 1984,
ORDERED that Christopher Wilson's petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 be, and it hereby is, granted; and it is further
ORDERED that a writ of habeas corpus issue for Christopher Wilson, releasing him from all restraints and custody of the State of New Jersey in connection with the March 12, 1981 conviction for simple manslaughter and possession of a handgun, including but not limited to fines and parole requirements, unless the State of New Jersey beings proceedings for retrial within ninety (90) days hereof.