Proper jury instructions are an essential part of a criminal trial. In this recent case decided on appeal, it was held that the trial judge failed to give the jury adequate instructions regarding the law, warranting a reversal of the defendant’s NJ criminal conviction. Summary by Mark Friedman.
State v. Michael A. Walker, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-5809-07T4 (November 5, 2009) – Conviction for attempted criminal trespass reversed. “[W]e are satisfied that the court’s charge on the offense of attempted criminal trespass was insufficient….
The trial court did not include … a reference to the necessity of the offense having been committed in a dwelling, an essential element of the fourth-degree offense of criminal trespass. The statutory definition of structure that the trial court did provide to the jury, taken from N.J.S.A. 2C:18-1, includes all structures and does not make the distinction between a dwelling and other structures essential to the degree of trespass in N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3a.
Absent a finding by the jury that this offense involved a dwelling, defendant could not be convicted of a fourth-degree crime; the offense would be a disorderly persons offense…. [T]he most that may be gleaned from the jury’s verdict is that they found him guilty of attempting to commit a disorderly persons offense. Our criminal code, however, does not recognize such an offense.” (Michael C. Kazer, Designated Counsel)