Court Discusses Evidence of Prior Acts in Criminal Cases in New Jersey

If a person is charged with a crime, the State is limited to what evidence it is permitted to introduce to establish guilt. In other words, it generally cannot introduce evidence of prior wrongs committed by the defendant in an attempt to establish the defendant was a person of a certain character and acted in accordance with that character on the date of the offense. There are some exceptions, however, as discussed in a recent New Jersey opinion in a case in which the defendant was convicted of weapons offenses and other crimes. If you are accused of a crime, it is wise to confer with a New Jersey criminal defense attorney to evaluate your rights.

The Alleged Offense

It is reported that the defendant was observed fighting with his wife outside of a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. He then got into a verbal argument with a man inside of the bar, who told the defendant to leave. The two men then became involved in a physical altercation. The defendant left and then returned fifteen minutes with a gun.

Allegedly, the defendant entered the bar, shot the man he had been fighting with, and then fled. He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and possessing a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Prior to trial, a hearing was held during which the State sought to admit evidence the defendant was fighting with his wife prior to the shooting. The defendant objected, but the court ruled in favor of the State. A jury convicted the defendant, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in admitting evidence he fought with his wife.

Evidence of Prior Wrongs and Bad Acts

On appeal, the court stated that the defendant’s argument lacked merit. The court explained that under New Jersey Rule of Evidence 404b, evidence of other wrongs, crimes, or acts cannot be admitted to prove the likelihood that a person acted in a criminal manner on the date of the occasion in question. It can be admitted for other purposes, however, such as to show motive, intent, opportunity, plan, or knowledge.

The court further explained that Rule 404b is an exclusionary rule rather than a rule of inclusion. Thus, a party seeking to include evidence of other wrongful acts or crimes must pass a four-part test. Specifically, it must be relevant to an admissible issue, and it must have occurred close in proximity in time to the offense charged. The evidence of the other crime must be clear and convincing, and it must not be outweighed by prejudice. In the subject case, the court found that the trial court properly ruled that the evidence was admissible. Thus, the verdict was affirmed.

Speak to a Skillful Criminal Defense Attorney

If the State is permitted to introduce inappropriate evidence in an attempt to prove a defendant committed a weapons crime, it can lead to an unfair verdict. If you are charged with an offense involving a weapon, you should consult an attorney regarding your rights. At The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys are adept at helping people fight to protect their liberties, and if you hire us, we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can contact us through our form online or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a meeting.

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