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Potential Defenses in a New Jersey Homicide Case


4/29/2019

Criminal homicide charges are some of the most serious criminal charges you can face. Whether charged with murder, manslaughter, or death by auto, these charges carry serious time in prison and heavy fines if convicted. In addition, a conviction is likely to have severe repercussions for you and your family.

The prosecution will try to convince you that there’s no hope and you should just plead guilty. Don’t believe them. If you’ve been charged with homicide, it’s critical that you have an aggressive criminal defense attorney who will zealously challenge the prosecution’s case. Your attorney can evaluate your case and formulate a strong defense. In this post, we’ll review some of the common defenses that are available to people facing murder charges.

Innocence

Although it’s not an affirmative defense like self-defense or insanity discussed below, it’s important to remember that you can enter a plea of innocence and require that the prosecution prove that you are guilty. The prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the highest standard of proof in our legal system. This means that in order to convict you of homicide, the jury must believe that no person could reasonably doubt that you are guilty based on the evidence presented.

What the prosecution will have to prove will vary according to what homicide charges you are facing. For example, if you are charged with murder, the prosecution will have to prove that you intended to kill the victim. If you are charged with manslaughter or vehicular homicide, the prosecution will have to prove that your reckless behavior caused the death of the victim.

An experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney will know exactly what the prosecution has to prove and whether a jury is likely to convict you or acquit you of your charges. Your attorney can also challenge the admissibility of evidence in the case and the witnesses the prosecution will rely on. You don’t have to prove anything in order to assert your innocence – the prosecution has to prove that you are guilty, and your attorney will identify for the jury how their case fails to do so.

Self-Defense

Self-defense is one of the strongest defenses under New Jersey law that you can raise when facing homicide charges. However, you must meet the following criteria in order to successfully raise the defense:

  • You reasonably believed that the use of force was immediately necessary.
  • The person you killed was using unlawful force against you.
  • You reasonably believed that the amount of force used was necessary in order to protect yourself.

This first element – that the use of force was immediately necessary – means you were in immediate need of protecting yourself. To put it another way, you were in imminent danger with no opportunity to retreat. For example, merely hearing that someone was “out to get you” is not sufficient justification for using deadly force. In addition, your belief that you were in imminent danger must be reasonable, meaning that a reasonable person would similarly conclude they were in imminent danger given the same facts and circumstances.

The second element requires that the force used against you was unlawful. In other words, you were being attacked and the attacker had no legal right to do so. For this reason, you cannot claim self-defense if you assault a police officer while being arrested. Similarly, you cannot claim self-defense if you kill someone who attacked you while you were breaking into their home.

The third element is fairly straightforward – you cannot use deadly force unless you reasonably believed that it was the only way to protect yourself. For example, you can’t shoot someone if they posed little risk of killing you first.

Self-defense is a complicated argument to make that will depend heavily on the facts in your case. In order to be successful, you need an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense on your side.

Insanity

Insanity is another defense that can be raised if you’re facing homicide charges. In raising the defense, you are essentially admitting that you did the crime but that you should not be held criminally liable because you were mentally ill at the time the crime was committed. In order to successfully raise the defense, you will have to meet the legal definition of insanity. This will probably require that you submit to a psychological evaluation and your medical records will be used as evidence.

New Jersey uses two standards for determining whether a criminal defendant was legally insane at the time they committed the crime.

  1. The defendant was not mentally capable of understanding the nature of their actions; or
  2. The defendant understood what they were doing, but was unable to understand that their actions were legally or morally wrong.

Both of these standards attempt to establish that the defendant was not truly responsible for the crimes they committed.

It’s important to note that you only need to prove that you were insane at the time the crime was committed. You can still raise the defense if you were only temporarily mentally ill and have since recovered. Similarly, the defense may not be successful if you are mentally ill at the time you were arrested, but cannot prove that you were mentally ill at the time the crime was committed. An experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney can help you determine whether insanity is a viable defense in your case.

New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You Face Your Homicide Charges

If you’ve been charged with homicide, it’s important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Delays can do irreparable damage to your case and give the prosecution yet another advantage. In order to raise one of these defenses and prove your innocence, your attorney needs time to carefully prepare your case.

Criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer provides her clients with dedicated, personalized legal representation to ensure that they get a fair result. If you’re facing homicide charges in New Jersey, she has the knowledge and experience you need. You can schedule a free and confidential consultation with Ms. Wimmer by calling 215-712-1212 or contacting us online to discuss how we can help you.