A criminal defense attorney is an attorney that specializes in criminal laws and assists their client, a defendant that has been charged with a crime, in forming their best legal defense to the charges brought against them by the state. In a criminal case, the prosecution will be the state, which will bring criminal charges against a person alleged to have violated the criminal laws of the state, who will be known as the defendant.
When criminal charges are brought against an individual, that individual has a constitutional right to an attorney. Further, any criminal charges brought against an individual must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice specifically states that no person may be convicted of a criminal offense unless the prosecution proves each element of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Therefore, without such proof, the defendant will be presumed innocent, and the charges against them must be dropped.
What Can a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Do?
As mentioned briefly above, the main role of a criminal defense attorney is to assist their client with the criminal charges that have been brought against them. As such, a criminal defense attorney in New Jersey will perform a variety of tasks in building a strong legal defense for their client, such as:
- Researching the specific criminal laws that their client was alleged to have violated;
- Reviewing the specific facts of their client’s case;
- Reviewing all of the evidence that was gathered by the state prosecution, as well as any evidence that their client may be in possession of that is related to the charges being brought against their client;
- Reviewing all of the evidence as to evidence’s admissibility in court;
- Formulating legal arguments that may be used to fight the charges being alleged;
- Raising all applicable legal defenses that are available for their client;
- Helping their client and witnesses prepare for testimony in court;
- Representing their client at any necessary in-person criminal proceedings;
- Communicating with the state prosecution and negotiating any plea deals, if applicable; or
- Representing their client during the sentencing phase of the criminal trial, if applicable.
In addition to the above list of tasks, criminal law attorneys may also represent their clients in other settings associated with the crime they allegedly committed. For example, criminal law attorneys may also help clients with mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods if available. These alternative dispute resolution methods are especially common for juvenile crime cases.
Criminal defense attorneys may also assist their clients with parole, probation, and other similar requirements that their clients may have received as a result of the charges brought against them.
What Are Common Criminal Defenses?
As noted above, any person accused of committing a crime in New Jersey becomes a criminal defendant. Then, defendants are presumed innocent until the state prosecution proves that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that a criminal defense attorney can fight any element of the crime to demonstrate the state cannot meet its burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
A criminal defense attorney can assert a legal defense that either excuses or justifies their client’s criminal behavior. A legal defense may entirely prevent a criminal conviction or even reduce the criminal charges brought against a defendant. Examples of the most commonly asserted criminal defenses in New Jersey include:
- Self-Defense: In New Jersey, any person charged with harming another may raise the legal defense of self-defense to avoid criminal punishment or jail time.
- Sometimes, a person may also claim self-defense if they use force to protect another person from an attack or harm.
- To utilize the legal self-defense defense, the defendant must demonstrate that they were not the aggressor, that their reaction was a reasonable response to the threat being posed to them, and that they actually and reasonably believed that they were in danger of imminent serious bodily injury or death;
- Duress Or Necessity: New Jersey recognizes duress and necessity defenses to crimes committed under the threat of death or serious bodily injury.
- For example, if someone forced a person to steal a car by threatening them with a gun to their head, duress could be raised as a legal defense to a charge of auto theft.
- Necessity, which is also known as the lesser harm defense, applies only in very specific situations where a defendant’s criminal conduct is excused because their actions were necessary or justified given the situation;
- Insanity: New Jersey also recognizes the insanity defense. It is important to note that mental disease or defect is not an acceptable legal defense. However, if the defendant suffered from a severe mental illness or defect when they committed the criminal act, the insanity defense may prevent them from serving time in prison.
- The intention behind the insanity defense is that a person should not be punished because they could not form the willful intent necessary to commit the criminal offense when they committed it.
- Proving insanity in New Jersey is extremely difficult and requires clear and competent expert testimony;
- Alibi: An alibi provides a strong criminal defense and helps the defense with the assertion of actual innocence. Ideally, an alibi will account for the defendant’s whereabouts, making it impossible for the state prosecution to prove that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- For example, if the state charges a defendant with a burglary in New Jersey, and the defendant can prove that they were in another state at the time the crime occurred, the alibi will prevent their conviction; or
- Entrapment: In the state of New Jersey, a defendant can assert entrapment if a law enforcement officer, often an undercover officer, induced or deceived the defendant into committing a crime that they would otherwise not have committed.
- Entrapment generally depends on the testimony of the defendant against the testimony of the police. As such, it is difficult to assert as juries are historically more likely to prefer the testimony of the police over the testimony of a criminal defendant.
Once again, it is important to note that a legal defense must be asserted, or it will not be considered in the criminal trial of a defendant alleged to have committed a crime. As such, a New Jersey criminal defense attorney is essential in asserting any applicable legal defenses.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help With a Criminal Charge in New Jersey?
As can be seen, New Jersey criminal laws and criminal procedures can often be very complex and difficult to understand. Further, numerous criminal penalties may result from a person being convicted. As such, if you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, it is in your best interests to immediately consult with an experienced New Jersey criminal law lawyer.
An experienced attorney will be able to help you build a solid legal defense, as well as assert any applicable legal defenses. An attorney will also be able to communicate with the prosecution and have the charges brought against you reduced or dismissed entirely. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you at any necessary in-person criminal proceedings.