In a recent post, we examined how the standard of review on an appeal from the granting of a summary judgment motion is relatively favorable. This is so despite the need to challenge fact findings on appeal. The standard of review for challenging findings of fact in most other scenarios is more difficult. This means that prevailing on an appeal will be very difficult if the only issue raised by a criminal appeals lawyer is that the judge or jury at the trial level made errors as to fact findings. In this post, we will look at one type of argument that can be made in the context of a criminal appeal that may be subject to a relatively easier standard: a challenge based upon erroneous or bad jury instructions. A criminal appeals attorney who can credibly raise an argument based upon bad jury instructions can improve the likelihood of the reversal of a conviction.
In most circumstances, the law in New Jersey prevents the Appellate Division from considering an appeal unless it has proceeded through a hearing or trial. In these situations, fact and credibility findings made at the hearing or trial level by a judge or jury are presumed to be correct by the appellate court. These findings will not be disturbed unless they are so blatantly unsupported by evidence that an appeals panel concludes a mistake has been made. As a result, in most situations, for an appeal to have a realistic possibility of success, the focus of an appeal needs to be on errors of law or procedure made at the trial level.
An error in a trial judge’s charges or instructions to a jury is one type of error that can justify the reversal of a conviction. The New Jersey Supreme Court has “always placed an extraordinarily high value on the importance of appropriate and proper jury charges to the right to trial by jury.” As a result, it is not surprising that “erroneous instructions on matters or issues material to the jury’s deliberations are presumed to be reversible error in criminal prosecutions.” The reason for this presumption is that a judge’s giving of improper jury instructions can threaten a criminal defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial.
Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that an error that is harmless and clearly could not have affected a jury’s deliberations will not justify reversal. In addition, an appeals’ court’s analysis of alleged errors will depend on whether or not the criminal defendant’s trial attorney made an objection in the trial court as to the judge’s instructions to the jury.
After a poor outcome at trial, a defendant or their loved ones may desire the objective opinion of a criminal appeals lawyer who was not involved with the trial. If you are considering appealing a conviction in New Jersey state or federal court, the New Jersey criminal appeals lawyers at the Law Office of Bart J. Klein can help you evaluate your case, determine whether it is advisable to proceed, and if so, the best approach to take. We welcome you to contact us at (973) 763-6060, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by completing our online contact form.
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