New Jersey Court Discusses Jury Instructions on Flight in Criminal Matters

In criminal matters, the State bears the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt. In contrast, while criminal defendants can set forth evidence if they choose to, they are not required to prove their innocence. Recently, a New Jersey court addressed a defendant’s challenge that a jury instruction regarding flight from the scene impermissibly shifted the burden of proof from the State to the defendant, in a matter in which the defendant was convicted of numerous crimes, including aggravated assault. If you are charged with assault or another serious offense, it is wise to talk to a skillful New Jersey assault defense attorney regarding what evidence the State may try to produce against you at trial.

The Alleged Criminal Acts and Trial

It is reported that an altercation broke out at a bar in New Jersey. The fight spilled into the street, and multiple gunshots were fired. Three people died, and numerous other people suffered injuries. During their investigation, the police identified the defendant as the individual who fired the shots. He was charged with multiple crimes, including kidnapping, first-degree murder, and aggravated assault.

Allegedly, during the trial, evidence was presented that after the incident, the defendant went to Florida, despite previously having no plans to do so. The trial court set forth a jury charge regarding flight as consciousness of guilt, and the defendant did not object to the substance of the charge at trial. He was convicted of many of the charges and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. He then appealed, arguing in part that the jury charge improperly shifted the burden of proof from the State onto him.

New Jersey Jury Instructions Regarding Flight

On appeal, the court explained that the proper time to object to a jury charge is before the jury leaves to assess its verdict. If a defendant fails to object to a jury charge during the trial, the court will review the matter for plain error and will not order a reversal unless an error is adequate to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether the error led the jury to issue a verdict it otherwise would not have considered.

The defendant did not raise the argument that the flight instruction improperly shifted the burden of proof to him until appeal. Specifically, he argued that following the charge, he was required to disprove flight in order to avoid the inference of consciousness of guilt, which was damaging to his case. The appellate court rejected this argument, finding that the trial court provided the jury with the standard instruction, which stated that if the jury found there was a departure and a motive for that departure, it could infer flight and, therefore, consciousness of guilt. The court explained that the instruction did not require the defendant to prove anything, it merely advised the jury how to weigh the evidence. Thus, the defendant’s convictions were affirmed.

Meet with a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney

It is critical for anyone charged with a crime to understand what evidence the State may try to introduce at trial. If you need a defense lawyer for aggravated assault or another violent crime, the trusted New Jersey attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can inform you of your potential defenses and help you fight to try to protect your rights. You can reach us through our form online or by calling us at 877-450-8301 to schedule a conference.

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