What You Need to Know About New Jersey Criminal Defense Laws: Tips from Top Lawyers

  • Criminal Defense

Criminal Defense Laws and Facts You Might Not Know

Knowledge of New Jersey laws is imperative for presenting a strong criminal defense if you are accused of a crime. Of course, you don’t have to possess this knowledge yourself. This is why you connect with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Whether you’re dealing with assault charges, facing a DUI charge, or have been accused of any other crime, a defense attorney in New Jersey can provide you with guidance about the criminal justice system, help you understand your options, work to protect your rights, and help you build a case for your defense.

However, there are some laws and legal principles you might want to know even before you get to that point.

Can’t You Just Go With a Public Defender?

Many people know that they have a right to an attorney. Chances are you’ve heard the phrase, “you have a right to an attorney; if you can’t afford one, one will be provided for you” on television legal dramas.

What many people don’t know is that there are specific income thresholds that govern whether or not you are eligible for public defender services. In New Jersey, income eligibility for indigent defense services guidelines are updated regularly.

For example, according to data published in 2022 by the New Jersey Courts, someone who is part of a household of four people must make $34,687.50 or less annually to qualify for indigent defense services.

Understanding the Duty to Retreat and Castle Laws

Self-defense may sound like a good defense against certain crimes. For example, if you are being charged with assault, can you make a case that you felt threatened and were protecting yourself?

In some cases, yes. Claiming self-defense is a potential strategy. However, two other laws come into play when considering this approach.

Duty to Retreat

In New Jersey, individuals have a legal duty to retreat. This means if a person feels threatened or believes that their person or life is in danger, they must retreat from the situation if it is possible to do so.

For example, if someone is at a local park and feels threatened by someone else, they might run away, make their way to their car and drive away, or move to an area with more people.

If someone has the option to retreat and chooses to use force to defend themselves instead, these facts might negatively impact their self-defense claims.

If you cannot reasonably retreat and resort to using force for self-defense, the incident must meet three requirements for self-defense to be a viable criminal defense strategy. First, the force used to protect yourself must be deemed necessary. Second, the force used by the other person must be unlawful in nature. Finally, there must be a reasonable expectation that immediate force on your part was required for defense.

Castle Doctrine

An exception to the duty to retreat is found in the castle doctrine. If someone is in their own home and is threatened by an attack, they can use force to defend themselves or their family without first attempting to retreat.

However, even in this case, if the force used is substantial and causes the serious injury or death of another, the homeowner may be arrested and face potential charges. The strength of their defense and other factors may determine whether they are charged and what types of charges they face. In such a case, it can be beneficial to have a criminal defense attorney working on your behalf from the beginning.

Knowing—and Protecting—Your Rights

Criminal defendants have a number of rights. Knowing these rights and having a legal team that can work to protect them can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Some important rights for criminal defendants in New Jersey include:

  • The cross-examination of witnesses. You or your attorney can cross-examine any witness that presents information about your case. This can help support your defense, as the prosecutor may not ask the right questions to demonstrate weaknesses in a case.
  • Adequate representation by an attorney. You don’t just have a right to representation. You have a right to adequate representation, which means if you feel your attorney is not doing a good job, you can fire them and hire another attorney.
  • A public jury trial. While you have a right to trial, going to trial is not always the best strategy for criminal defense. An experienced attorney can help you understand what options might work best in your case and whether you have some favorable options for plea bargains or deals.
  • Protection from double jeopardy. You have a right not to be tried twice for the same crime. However, there are loopholes that can be leveraged depending on whether you are actually tried for a charge or not. Always ensure your attorney explains all the potential consequences of a decision in a criminal defense case so you know what may be at risk in the future.

Know Your Rights and Choose a Legal Team You Can Trust

The Hernandez Law Firm, P.C., works diligently and aggressively to support the rights of our clients and increase the chances of a positive outcome for their cases. To find out more about your rights, how we can protect them, and how we can help with your criminal defense case, reach out at 732-582-5076.

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