Under State and Federal law, criminal defendants are not required to offer a defense at any point during their proceedings. They have the privilege to set forth a defense if they choose to do so, though, and if a judge denies them that privilege, it may constitute a violation of the right to a fair trial. The right is not boundless, however, and any evidence a defendant wishes to set forth in his or her defense must be reasonably related to a critical element of the State’s case. A defendant’s right to offer a defense was the subject of a recent New Jersey ruling in which the defendant argued the court erred in failing to introduce evidence suggesting that another party committed the aggravated assault out of which his charges arose. If you are accused of assault or another crime, it is prudent to meet with a New Jersey criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options.

The Alleged Assault

It is reported that a physical altercation occurred outside of a New Jersey bar. Video surveillance footage of the incident showed the victim struggling with a man. The man was wearing similar clothing to what the defendant was wearing when he was arrested moments later. The man was then shown taking an object out of the waistband of his pants and striking the victim repeatedly. The man and the victim move off-camera, and the victim is seen seconds later walking into the street to hail a police car.

It is alleged that the victim suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The defendant was arrested and charged with multiple crimes, including aggravated assault. During the trial, the court prohibited the defendant from questioning the bar owner regarding his confrontation with the victim on the night of the victim, noting he had not provided notice he would argue he was acting in self-defense and the purpose of the questioning was unclear. The jury convicted the defendant, after which he appealed.

The Right to Set Forth a Defense in a Criminal Trial

On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the court’s failure to permit him to question the bar owner regarding his own altercation with the victim violated his right to a fair trial. The court explained that criminal defendants have an undisputed right to prove their innocence by showing that another party committed the crimes with which they are charged. Moreover, self-defense can be raised as a defense even if a defendant and victim engaged in mutual combat.

The court noted that the defendant seemed to argue that the victim had fought with numerous people and that any of them could have committed the crime. The court found this to be an insufficient basis to allow the defendant to proceed with his proposed line of questioning, noting that evidence presented in support of a defense must be likely to create a reasonable doubt as to an essential element of the State’s case. Thus, the defendant’s conviction was affirmed.

Consult a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney

While people charged with assault do not bear a burden of proof at trial, in many instances, it is in their benefit to set forth an affirmative defense. If you are faced with an aggravated assault charge in New Jersey, it is advisable to consult a lawyer to determine your rights. The criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are proficient at navigating the complications that often arise in criminal matters, and if we represent you, we will work tirelessly to help you seek a successful outcome. You can reach us through our online form or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a conference.