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How to Meet the Different Burdens in New Jersey Criminal Trials

In the legal field there are many different standards that must be met to successfully prove a case. The standards in civil and criminal cases vary. Many individuals know at least one standard in a criminal case: the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the burden for criminal trials, but what does it really mean? It is important to understand what this really means and be aware that there are other burdens that may also apply in some criminal cases.

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

New Jersey’s criminal justice system requires the prosecution to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt before finding guilt. This is a fundamental law that assumes innocence until proven guilty in a court of law.

What does the phrase “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” mean? The phrase essentially means that the state must convince the judge or members of the jury in such a way that they are sure the crime has been committed. While New Jersey cases have made clear that absolute certainty is not a requirement, they also have suggested that probably guilty or likely guilty is not enough to convict an individual. In fact any benefit of the doubt must be provided in favor of the person accused of a crime; it cannot be given to the prosecutors for the state.

A reasonable doubt may exist when:

  1. a judge or jury is hesitant as to whether the accused is the person who committed the crime;
  2. a crime requires an intentional act and there is concern that defendant did not know he was committing a crime or did not intend to commit a crime; or
  3. any element of a crime (components that show a crime has been committed) is missing.

The examples stated above are not a complete list. Reasonable doubt can be just about anything that makes a person hesitant and believe that something just does not seem right. That is all that is necessary to acquit someone, finding them not guilty.

Affirmative Defenses

Affirmative defenses are facts and circumstances that, if successfully asserted, counter a claim of guilt and establish innocence. An affirmative defense is acknowledging that a crime has been committed but asserting that there is a valid excuse for committing the crime.

The burden of showing an affirmative defense is typically on the accused, since it benefits that individual. The burden of proof for an affirmative defense is by a preponderance of evidence, which is a more likely than not standard. Once an affirmative defense is established, the prosecution has the ability to show facts that disprove any affirmative defenses presented.

The ultimate effect of successfully asserting an affirmative defense could be the difference between guilt and innocence. Affirmative defenses are not applicable for every crime. In fact, the affirmative defenses set forth in the crimes code are the only defenses available in a criminal prosecution.

Contact an Attorney

If you or someone you know is charged with a crime, contact Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney at Law in Rockland County. Attorney Murphy has litigated criminal cases in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for many years. He is experienced in criminal litigation and would be happy to consult with you regarding the procedures in criminal matters and how it impacts your case.

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