In criminal trials, the judge will offer instructions or charges to the jurors, explaining things such as the elements of the charged offenses and providing directives on how the evidence should be evaluated. Thus, if a judge improperly instructs a jury, a defendant may be unjustly convicted, and the improper instruction may provide a basis for an appeal. Recently, in a New Jersey case in which the defendant was charged with aggravated assault, an appellate court discussed the evaluation of jury charges, ultimately determining the trial court properly instructed the jury. If you are charged with a violent crime such as assault, it is critical to retain a knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney to help you offer a compelling defense.
Facts of the Case
It is reported that the defendant physically attacked a man who was working in the salon of his ex-girlfriend. The girlfriend fled the salon, after which the defendant followed her, allowing the victim to escape. When the defendant realized both the victim and his ex-girlfriend were gone, he fled from the scene in a white van. He was subsequently charged with aggravated assault and making terroristic threats. Following a trial, he was found guilty of aggravated assault. He appealed, arguing in part that the trial judge erred in providing the jury with a flight charge.
Evaluating Jury Charges
Under New Jersey law, when a defendant argues a jury charge was erroneous, the charge must be reviewed as a whole. As a person’s freedom is at stake, proper charges are critical to a fair trial, and erroneous charges on material issues are presumed to constitute reversible errors. If a defendant’s attorney fails to object to a charge, though, it is reviewed for plain error.
Here, the defendant argued that the flight charge provided to the jury was improper, confusing, and not tailored to the facts of his case. The appellate court explained that a flight charge is proper when there are unexplained circumstances that reasonably justify the inference that a person’s actions were taken with a consciousness of guilt and with an effort to avoid accusations based on that guilt. The circumstances do not have to irrefutably prove guilt but must intrinsically indicate such consciousness.
Whether evidence of flight and the recitation of a flight charge is proper depends on to what degree four inferences can be drawn: from the defendant’s behavior to flight, from flight to awareness of guilt, from awareness of guilt to guilt regarding the alleged offense, and from awareness of guilt regarding the alleged offense to actual guilt. Here, the court found that there was sufficient testimony and evidence to support the flight charge. As such, the court found no error.
Meet with a Seasoned New Jersey Attorney
Jury charges are an important component in obtaining a fair criminal trial, as a jury with improper instructions may deliver an incorrect verdict. If you have been charged with aggravated assault or another crime, the seasoned New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can assist you in setting forth effective arguments to provide you with a strong chance of a favorable outcome. You can contact us via our form online or by calling 877-450-8301 to schedule a conference.