New Jersey Court Discusses Jury Instructions on Lesser Included Offenses

In many instances in which a defendant is charged with a serious crime, there will be evidence that may be enough for the State to obtain a conviction. In such instances, a defense attorney will often request that the court instruct the jury regarding any lesser included offenses of the crime with which the defendant is charged, in an attempt to avoid the greater penalty associated with the more serious misconduct. An instruction on lesser included offenses is not always warranted, however, as demonstrated in a recent New Jersey case in which the defendant was convicted of murder. If you are charged with a serious crime, it is prudent to speak to a seasoned New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss your options for seeking the best result available under the facts of your case.

Facts and Procedural History

It is reported that the defendant, who worked for the victim, bound and gagged the victim and placed a sponge soaked with ammonia over her nose. He then, along with an accomplice, transported her to a wooded area where he proceeded to dig a hole and bury her. The accomplice testified that the victim was making noises and moving while she was being buried. An autopsy revealed that the victim died of asphyxiation. The defendant was charged with numerous crimes, including first-degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery.

Allegedly, during the trial, the defendant’s attorney requested a jury instruction on the lesser included offense of aggravated manslaughter to the first-degree murder charge, arguing that the defendant’s acts were reckless rather than intentional. The court denied the request, and the defendant was convicted as charged, after which he appealed.

When an Instruction on a Lesser Included Offense is Appropriate

Under New Jersey law, when a party requests a jury charge, the court must review whether a rational basis exists for the jury to convict a defendant of a lesser included offense. A crime will be considered a lesser included offense when it is established by proving all or some of the facts required to establish guilt for the charged offense, it consists of a conspiracy or attempt to commit the charged offense, or it is distinguishable from the charged crime only in that a less serious harm is adequate to demonstrate culpability.

In reviewing whether a trial court’s denial of a lesser included offense instruction was appropriate, an appellate court will look at whether the evidence shows that there is a reasonable basis for the jury to convict the defendant of the lesser crime. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the evidence clearly did not demonstrate that the jury could find that the defendant lacked intent or did not knowingly kill the victim. As such, the trial court’s ruling was affirmed.

Speak to an Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney

In many instances, even if the evidence shows that defendant engaged in illegal activity, he or she may be able to avoid a conviction for a serious crime due to the availability of a lesser included offense instruction. If you are charged with robbery or any other unlawful offense, the experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help you mount a compelling defense by setting forth arguments aimed to help you pursue a favorable outcome. You can reach us at 877-450-8301 or via the form online to schedule a conference.

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