You ever hear about something odd written in law and wonder why it exists in the first place?
(Despite popular opinion, slurping soup in New Jersey IS legal).
We thought the definitions for Reckless Endangerment in the New Jersey Criminal Code were particularly interesting.
According to NJ Rev Stat § 2C:12-2 (2013), the crime of Reckless Endangerment is defined as doing one of the following very specific actions on purpose: (a) destroying a boat (b) putting a corrosive fluid inside of a golf ball or (c) giving strangers candy with drugs in them.
That’s it. That’s all there is to the statute. The law says:
2C:12-2. Reckless Endangerment
a. A person who purposely or knowingly does any act, including putting up a false light, which results in the loss or destruction of a vessel commits a crime of the third degree.
b.A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if he:
(1)Manufactures or sells a golf ball containing acid or corrosive fluid substance; or
(2)Purposely or knowingly offers, gives or entices any person to take or accept any treat, candy, gift, food, drink or other substance that is intended to be consumed which is poisonous, intoxicating, anesthetizing, tranquilizing, disorienting, deleterious or harmful to the health or welfare of such person, without the knowledge of the other person as to the identity and effect of the substance, except that it is a crime of the third degree if the actor violates the provisions of this paragraph with the purpose to commit or facilitate the commission of another criminal offense. […]
What could have happened to make them include these? We looked into the charge of NJSA 2C:12-2(b)(1), for the person who “manufactures or sells a golf ball containing acid of corrosive fluid substance.”
What happened that made legislators take a hard look at themselves in regard to the golf ball situation in New Jersey?
In December 1912, this article from the New York Times archives cites a physician who treated a boy in Orange, New Jersey after being burned with the acid located inside a golf ball. The doctor provided the following expert quote:
“I have heard of similar cases, but never saw one before. There is no question of the danger lurking in the middle of a golf ball. Few people seem to realize it exists, not even those who employ the balls in their favorite sport.”
The physician says something important about the golf ball market at the time, that not a whole lot of consumers knew about the golf balls, but some people did, in fact, know what was inside these products.
Why was there acid in the golf ball in the first place?
In 1913, the United States Golf Association issued a warning letter to the public against the contents of golf balls in the wake of these types of incidents across the nation.
It was common practice for golf ball manufacturers to place a corrosive fluid inside a golf ball for buoyancy and purposes of making it fly farther in the game of golf.
1913 was the same year the Golf Ball Statute was first enacted by the New Jersey State Legislature. Some curious Seton Hall Law Students published an article in the Seton Hall Legislative Journal entitled, ”” Legislative Arch[a]eology: “It’s Not What You Find, It’s What You Find Out.”
They cited several accidents in New Jersey alone, including one that involved the son of a New Jersey Judge. They theorize that this law was legally re-categorized remaining on its own for decades, and as such that its context is obscured as a cultural artifact in the soil would be over time.
“The passage of time (like the accumulation of soil, using the metaphor of archaeology), had entirely concealed the original intent of the 1913 golf ball statute. Over the years, the 1913 law was codified and re-codified into several official compilations, before its final allocation to a subsection of 2C:12-2 by virtue of the 1978 revision to Title 2C. Although the text changed slightly over the course of several recompilations, it had been contained in its own statutory section prior to the 1978 revision. In 1978, the text of the 1913 law was commingled with other laws regarding reckless endangerment, taking the law out of its spatial-temporal context.”
“LEGISLATIVE ARCH[A]EOLOGY: “IT’S NOT WHAT YOU FIND, IT’S WHAT YOU FIND OUT.” (Mazzei, Tharney, Silver, Weitz, Pistritto, Segal).