Generally, when a person is tried on criminal charges, the court will instruct the jury as to the elements of the crime, to help the jurors to accurately determine whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. Thus, if a judge fails to adequately instruct a jury on a charged offense and the defendant is convicted regardless, it may constitute a violation of the defendant’s right to due process and a fair trial. The method for determining the sufficiency of jury instructions was recently discussed in a New Jersey case in which the defendant appealed his conviction for burglary, arguing that the instructions were inadequate. If you are accused of burglary or another crime, it is prudent to consult a trusted New Jersey criminal defense attorney to assess your charges and possible defenses.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant broke into his neighbor’s home via the window, along with an accomplice. The defendant dragged the neighbor through the home, threatening her, and physically assaulted her before leaving. The accomplice physically attacked the neighbor’s friend, who was staying at her home that evening as well. The defendant did not take anything from the home, but the neighbor suffered injuries due to the attack.

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with numerous crimes, including burglary. He was convicted as charged, after which he appealed on several grounds. As to the burglary charge, he argued the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury as to the elements of the crime, thereby violating his rights to due process and a fair trial.

Evaluating the Sufficiency of a Jury Instruction in a Criminal Trial in New Jersey

On appeal, the court noted that the defendant failed to object to the sufficiency of the jury charge at trial. Thus, the court engaged in a harmless error analysis, which required it to determine whether there is a possibility that the trial court’s error led to an unjust result. The possibility must be real, which means that it must be adequate to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether it caused the jury to reach a verdict it would not have otherwise.

The court further explained that adequate jury instructions are essential to the right to a fair trial, and a trial court’s failure to inform the jury on the element of an offense is presumed to be prejudicial, even if no objection is made at trial. Under New Jersey law, a person is guilty of burglary if he or she enters a building without the privilege to do so, with the intent to commit a crime.

It is a crime of the second degree if, during the commission of the offense, the actor causes bodily harm. In the subject case, the court used the Model Jury Charge for burglary, which the court deemed presumptively proper. Thus, the court found that the instruction was adequate, even though it did not advise the jury of the precise crime the defendant intended to commit in the neighbor’s home.

Meet with a Dedicated New Jersey Attorney

Criminal defendants have a right to a fair trial, and if their rights have been violated, they may be able to appeal their convictions. If you are accused of burglary or another crime, it is advisable to consult an attorney to discuss your case. The dedicated New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall have ample experience helping people accused of crimes fight to protect their rights, and if you hire us, we will set forth compelling defenses on your behalf. You can contact us via our form online or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a conference.