New Jersey Court Discusses When a Jury Instruction on Self-Defense is Appropriate

In some instances, a defendant can assert an affirmative defense to a criminal charge that will allow the defendant to avoid a conviction. For example, a defendant charged with assault may be able to argue that he or she was acting in self-defense, and therefore had a valid reason for committing the acts out of which the charge arose. Recently, a New Jersey appellate court discussed when a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense in a case in which the defendant appealed his assault conviction. If you are accused of committing assault, it is prudent to speak with a knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney regarding whether you may be able to set forth affirmative defenses to protect your interests.

Facts Regarding the Alleged Assault

Allegedly, the defendant and three other individuals engaged in a physical altercation in March 2016. Specifically, the defendant, a man, went to the home of the first woman, along with the second woman. When they arrived, the second woman asked the first woman if she was involved in a sexual relationship with the defendant, and the two women began to fight, after which a man who was in the first woman’s house became involved in the altercation. The defendant then advised the man not to touch the second woman, punched the man, and struck the man with a hammer.

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and weapons charges. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of simple assault and unlawful possession of a weapon and sentenced to two years’ probation. He then appealed on multiple grounds, including the assertion that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury regarding self-defense.

When a Jury Instruction on Self-Defense is Appropriate

Under New Jersey law, proper and appropriate jury instructions are critical for a fair trial, and erroneous instructions on material issues may unfairly prejudice a defendant and constitute grounds for reversal. Thus, the courts have an independent duty to ensure that jurors receive accurate instructions regarding the law as it relates to the issues and facts of the case, regardless of the suggestions of either party.

In determining whether to instruct a jury regarding self-defense, a court must evaluate the circumstances that might give rise to the defense, including the defendant’s conduct and the conduct of the alleged aggressor. A self-defense instruction is warranted if the evidence, when viewed most favorably to the defendant, supports the assertion that the defendant had a right to engage in self-defense.

The appellate court noted that pursuant to New Jersey law, the use of force against another person is justified if the actor reasonably believes the force is necessary for his or her protection against the other person’s unlawful use of force. The appellate court then found that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a jury instruction on self-defense and that the trial court erred in refusing to provide the jury with that instruction. As such, the appellate court found in favor of the defendant and reversed his convictions and remanded for a new trial.

Speak to a Dedicated Criminal Defense Attorney

In certain circumstances, a person accused of assault can argue that he or she was acting in self-defense and, therefore, should not be convicted of a crime. If you are faced with charges that you committed assault, the dedicated New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can advise you of your rights and your options for seeking a just outcome. You can contact us via our form online or at 877-450-8301 to set up a conference.

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