The mens rea element of negligence in the child abuse statute requires a showing of criminal negligence instead of ordinary civil negligence. To satisfy the element of negligence in N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-6-1(C), proof is required that the defendant knew or should have known of the danger involved and acted with a reckless disregard for the safety or health of the child.
Defendant was convicted under N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-6-1(C) (Repl. Pamp. 1984) of child abuse involving no death or great bodily injury after he cut his nephew's neck with a knife during an altercation. On appeal, the court affirmed, holding that the statute required at least a showing of criminal negligence. While the trial court committed error in failing to instruct the jury on a criminal negligence standard, no rational jury could have concluded that defendant cut his nephew's throat without satisfying the standard of criminal negligence. As the element of criminal negligence was established by the evidence, the error in instructing the jury on a civil negligence standard instead of a criminal negligence standard was not reversible error.
Is the degree of negligence required by the legislature under mens rea that of ordinary civil negligence?
The State asserted that the legislature's "decision to criminalize the conduct described by [Section 30-6-1(C)] reflected a compelling public interest in protecting defenseless children" and thus was a proper exercise of the legislature's police power. The State also pointed out that the statute has withstood many constitutional attacks. While it was undisputed that the statute's purpose was both legitimate and laudable, the interpretation of this criminal statute required that the term "negligently" be interpreted to require a showing of criminal negligence instead of ordinary civil negligence.