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.