27 Nov 23

Common Legal Defenses Used in New Jersey Criminal Trials

| by

Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 10:57 pm

Fighting Back: Understanding Your Legal Defense Options if Facing Criminal Charges in New Jersey

Let’s be real – dealing with criminal charges in New Jersey can be scary and overwhelming. As someone who cares about justice and protecting people’s rights, I want to walk through some of the most common legal defenses used, so you can better understand your options if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

I get it – legal jargon can be confusing AF. I’ll do my best to break things down in simple terms, so you have a solid grasp of the defenses that could help you. My goal here isn’t to judge, but to inform and empower you to make the best choices if faced with prosecution. You deserve to understand the legal landscape and how certain defenses might apply to your unique circumstances.

Burden of Proof Challenges

One major way lawyers defend their clients is by claiming the prosecution didn’t meet their evidentiary burden. Ya know, that “beyond a reasonable doubt” thing you always see on Law & Order.

Here’s how it works – the state has the burden of proving every element of the alleged crime(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense attorney can show there is insufficient evidence related to even one component of the criminal statute, it makes getting a conviction much harder.

I know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often prosecutors move forward with borderline cases that leave ample room for reasonable doubt arguments. Skilled criminal defense lawyers make it their mission to exploit any evidentiary weaknesses or inconsistencies.

Affirmative Defenses

While burden of proof challenges focus on the prosecution’s responsibility, affirmative defenses accept that the illegal act occurred, but argue there were justifying circumstances that excuse criminal liability.

The most common affirmative defenses include self-defense, defense of others, diminished mental capacity, insanity, duress, entrapment, and necessity. The applicability of each depends on the unique details involved, but their unifying theme is giving the court legally valid reasons for otherwise criminal behavior.

Let’s unpack some examples:

  • Self-Defense – If you used physical force to protect yourself or others from harm, arguing self-defense could defeat assault, battery, or even homicide charges. The key issues become…(1) whether your belief that such force was immediately necessary was reasonable under the circumstances, and (2) whether the level of force used was proportional to the perceived threat.
  • Insanity – Those unable to distinguish right from wrong or understand the nature of their actions at the time of the crime may be able plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Success typically requires credible mental health evaluations indicating a qualifying psychological impairment.
  • Duress – If another person threatened or coerced you into committing a crime under circumstances in which a reasonable person would feel they had no choice but comply, duress may excuse your actions. The coercion or threat of harm has to be imminent and severe.
  • Necessity – You can argue that breaking the law was necessary to avoid an even greater harm. For example, trespassing to access water in an emergency or exceeding the speed limit to rush someone to the hospital. These “choice of evils” arguments justify otherwise illegal choices when protecting health, safety or life.
LEARN MORE  Bankruptcy Fraud Defense Attorney

Constitutional Challenges

Beyond evidentiary issues, criminal lawyers also leverage Constitutional principles to get charges thrown out. When police or prosecutors violate these sacred protections of liberty, it can nullify the legal process and require dismissal – even for clearly guilty defendants.

Frequent examples include:

  • 4th Amendment violations where evidence stems from unreasonable searches/seizures or lack of probable cause.
  • 5th Amendment issues around compelled self-incrimination or double jeopardy.
  • 6th Amendment claims regarding the right to speedy trial, impartial jury, or assistance of counsel.
  • 8th Amendment arguments that the penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
  • 14th Amendment procedural due process concerns over biased treatment or unreliable evidence.

While technical and complex, Constitutional challenges are powerful tools for defeating unwarranted or unjust prosecutions.

The Path Forward

I realize this quick overview likely brings up more questions than answers. Every criminal case involves unique facts and priorities requiring experienced legal guidance. My goal was simply to familiarize you with some of the most common defense frameworks.

If you or a loved one are facing charges, please seek out an attorney you trust to advise you. Don’t go it alone. And know there are options and people willing to stand by your side.

While the legal system can seem rigid and unforgiving, skillful advocacy can tip the scales back toward justice. You deserve compassion and meaningful support. There is hope beyond the fear and uncertainty. With greater understanding and the right help, you can navigate this rocky terrain.