When you're facing domestic violence charges in New Jersey, it can be a frightening experience. Even if your arrest resulted from a misunderstanding or a one-time mistake, the consequences could be serious. For felony domestic violence convictions, you could face 18 months to ten years or more in prison. But even for a misdemeanor conviction, you could face time in jail. Understanding the evidence used in domestic violence cases and the evidence needed for your defense can help you understand the process and what may happen during the criminal justice process. One of the most important first steps you can take in your defense is to consult an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney well versed in domestic violence defense.
The Burden of Proof in Domestic Violence Trial
In your case, the state will need to prove that you committed the domestic violence crime beyond a reasonable doubt. New Jersey law states that “[n]o person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of such offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In the absence of such proof, the innocence of the defendant is assumed.” N.J.S.A. § 2C:1-13 (1979). If the prosecutor fails to prove each element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt,” then the arbiter can't find you guilty, whether a judge or a jury.
Types of Evidence Used in Domestic Violence Cases
To prove the domestic violence cases against you, the prosecutor will use all the evidence available against you, including:
- Photographs: Photographs are often one of the most important forms of evidence in a domestic violence trial. The state will introduce photos of any injuries the victim may have and photographs of the scene if there was a disturbance, broken property, or forced entry.
- Victim Testimony: The prosecutor will likely introduce the victim as a witness to give their version of the story against you. Your attorney will have the chance to cross-examine the victim, pointing out inconsistencies in their story or physical evidence and police reports.
- Witness Testimony: The state or your defense attorney may also call additional witnesses to report what they saw during the domestic violence incident, including neighbors, bystanders, family members, and police officers.
- Broken Property: The prosecutor may introduce it as evidence if the domestic violence incident resulted in any broken property. They could introduce this evidence to show intent to cause harm to the victim.
- Medical Reports: If you or the victim had to seek medical care, the parties may introduce medical reports as evidence. Medical professionals are also required to report domestic violence to the police if you seek medical treatment.
Evidence Needed for Your Defense
You and your attorney may also introduce evidence as part of your defense in a domestic violence trial. Your attorney may take several approaches in your defense, including arguing there isn't enough evidence to prove the domestic violence charge beyond a reasonable doubt, questioning the evidence introduced by the prosecutor, and introducing an affirmative defense such as self-defense.
- Self-Defense: To prove self-defense, your attorney may look for evidence that the alleged victim hit you first or tried to hit you or someone else, and you used reasonable force to defend yourself. For example, bruises on the victim's arms from where you tried to restrain them might be evidence of your self-defense.
- False Accusations: If you're arguing that the alleged victim is falsely accusing you of domestic violence, your attorney will seek to introduce evidence supporting this. For example, if there isn't sufficient physical evidence to support a claim that you harmed them, this could be evidence of a false accusation. Or, if your accuser had injuries, showing that they could have been self-inflicted may support your defense.
- False Identification: If the alleged victim has accused you of domestic violence, but you weren't the person who did it, you'll need evidence to support your claim. For example, your attorney may want to establish an alibi with video or witnesses who can testify that you were somewhere else at the time of the incident or show that you didn't have a motive to commit the crime.
- Accidents: If the victim's injuries were an accident, you'll need to present evidence to support this. For example, your attorney may be able to introduce forensic evidence that you accidentally harmed someone and witness evidence that you didn't intend to cause any harm.
- Police Errors: In addition to other defenses, your attorney may wish to show that the police have made one or more errors in the investigation of your case. For example, if the police failed to follow proper investigatory protocols, interview witnesses, collect evidence, or investigate every avenue, this may show that the police came to the wrong conclusion in arresting you. Moreover, if the police denied you due process rights, the arrest may have been improper. Your attorney may introduce these arguments before trial through pre-trial motions or motions to exclude evidence at trial.
If the state doesn't have sufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof at trial beyond a reasonable doubt, then the court will find you not guilty. However, your attorney may begin negotiating with the prosecutor well before a trial, particularly if the evidence against you is weak. Your attorney may get the state to drop the charges against you. In other cases where the evidence against you is more compelling, your attorney may be able to negotiate lesser charges in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, having you plead guilty to a misdemeanor rather than risk a conviction on a felony domestic violence charge may be the best approach. But in any case, you are innocent until proven guilty, and an experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights during the process.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer
If you're facing domestic violence charges in New Jersey, you need legal help right away. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been defending the rights of New Jersians accused of domestic violence for years, and they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm online today or call them at (888) 535-3686 to set up a consultation.