The killing of another person, whether intentionally or accidentally, is potentially one of the most serious crimes a person can be accused of committing. While the penalties for manslaughter are generally less serious than those that can be imposed for murder, these charges can still carry harsh penalties including a lengthy prison sentence. If you are charged with murder, you face extremely serious criminal penalties that can result in a lengthy prison sentence.

There are a number of forms of murder or manslaughter and a person can be charged with under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1)(2) or 2C:11-4a, b(1) when passion or provocation giving rise to the killing is not at issue. Likewise, this charge does not generally involve manslaughter accomplished with a vehicle which is typically referred to as vehicular homicide and charged under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5. Generally, charges for reckless or aggravated manslaughter under these charges arise when a person allegedly intentionally or recklessly kills another.

What Must a Jury Believe to Convict a Defendant of Reckless Manslaughter or Murder?

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The jury charge for the crimes of murder and reckless or aggravated manslaughter make clear that the jurors are not required to unanimously agree concerning the form of murder that has occurred. Rather, the jurors are only required to agree that a form of murder has occurred. For jurors to believe that murder has occurred they must believe that the defendant who is accused knowingly or purposefully caused the death of another person or a serious bodily injury that resulted in their death. The jurors must believe these facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

To convict on aggravated manslaughter charges, the jurors must believe that the accused individual has recklessly caused the death of an individual. The state must convince the jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the individual’s death, the actions giving rise to the death involved reckless behavior, the circumstances surrounding the death evidencing “extreme indifference to human life.”

How Can A Criminal Defense Lawyer Protect Me Against Reckless Manslaughter Charges?

Depending on the facts of the case and whether murder or manslaughter charges are sought, the strategies and approach towards the charges will differ. However, for a moment let’s assume that a defendant is charged with aggravated manslaughter. Since one of the elements the state must prove is that the defendant acted recklessly, one approach a criminal defense lawyer may take is to show that the conduct was not, in fact, reckless.

Reckless conduct is defined as conduct that is undertaken despite the individual’s knowledge of a risk of death. In other words, the risk of death is consciously disregarded by the actor. The jury is required to assess the nature and character of the surrounding circumstances and conclude whether a reasonable person would have acted similarly. Thus, a criminal defense attorney may work to show that the behavior was reasonable under the circumstances. He or she may also work to show that the reasonable person simply would not perceive or understand the full extent of the risk the conduct presented.

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Furthermore, the prosecutor must also prove that the killing took place under circumstances showing an extreme indifference to human life. This provides the criminal defense attorney an opportunity to show jurors that the circumstances do not warrant this characterization. It is important to note, however, that this element of the crime does not refer to the defendant’s state of mind or what he or she intended. Rather, the jury must determine if the circumstances the defendant acted under constituted a probability of death. If the criminal defense lawyer can convince that jury that death was not probable and was merely possible, then circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life do not exist.

If the state fails to prove any element of the murder or manslaughter charge beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury must acquit. Therefore, many criminal defense lawyers will attack all elements of the charge. However, there are some situations where a more focused or narrow approach may be more likely to achieve a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

Work With an Aggressive and Strategic Atlantic City Criminal Defense Lawyer

The criminal defense lawyers of the Law Firm of John J. Zarych may be able to fight for you. Mr. Zarych, the founding member of the firm has more than 40 years of criminal trial experience. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation call (609) 616-4956 or contact us online today.