Saturday, September 15, 2012
Presumed Innocent Until Proven Guilty in NJ
Often those facing criminal charges find themselves facing substantial prosecutorial prejudice, especially if they have faced prior charges. Even those who have been acquitted of prior charges or who have had prior charges dismissed by the prosecution face such prejudice. Prosecutors rely heavily on the representations of police officers and work under the assumption that the facts presented by those officers are truthful. Prosecutors are involved in long-term investigations and oversee task forces in which police officers operate in the field to obtain information for prosecutors to use to obtain convictions against criminal offenders. In such cases, the prosecutor is intimately involved in the development of the evidence he or she will later present to a judge in order to obtain a conviction. The prosecutor is not simply putting on the State's case but is, in essence, putting on his or her own personal case against the defendant. As a result of their personal involvement and reliance on officers, prosecutors are rather zealous at times, sometimes overly so. Prosecutors must act within the bounds of the law. One way prosecutors overstep the rules is to attempt to shift the burden of proof to the accused in the minds of the jury. They will try to infer to the jury that if the defendant chooses to exercise his right not to testify against himself or herself then the jury may infer guilt. In a recent case, State v. Urgent, the defendant was convicted of robbery and unlawful possession of a weapon (a knife). The prosecutor attempted to influence the jury to believe the defendant's failure to produce certain witnesses permitted the jury to infer the defendant's guilt. The New Jersey Appellate Court's holding in State v. Urgent reinforced the notion that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the burden of proof remains on the prosecutor by reversing the guilty finding and remanding the case to Superior Court for a new trial. This means the prosecutor must prove the accused is guilty and, although the accused should present any available evidence in his or her favor, the accused is never required to prove innocence. This blog is for informational purposes only and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney regarding your specific matter. If you are facing criminal charges, you should consult an experienced criminal law attorney immediately in order to protect your rights. For more information on criminal law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com.