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Successful use of a self-defense argument

In one of our previous posts, we dove into some of the commonly used defense strategies to counter assault charges in New Jersey. Topping the list was self-defense, and as we noted at the time, one of the challenges of using it is that it shifts a burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.

Instead of the state having to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged crime, the defense takes on the job of showing that the defendant's actions under the circumstances were justified. Whether the charge is one of assault or threat, the possible consequences of conviction demand examining all possible options for a robust defense.

No one can predict how a trial will turn out, but legal skill and experience make it possible to weigh risks and assess what strategies are likely to deliver an optimal outcome. In one recent case out of Minnesota, self-defense proved viable, at least in part, for one police officer. His jury of six acquitted him of misdemeanor assault in less than two hours after several days of testimony. Conviction could have meant 90 days in jail.

During the trial, the prosecution relied heavily on a grainy squad car video to support its claim that the 39-year-old police veteran had punched a 14-year-old girl in the face during efforts to get her into his and his partner's squad car. She admitted to having spit in his face and the prosecution said the video showed the officer lashing out in anger.

The defense countered that the images in the video were conclusive of nothing – that the so-called punch the officer used was a learned technique to startle the girl and maintain control of a tense situation. It noted, too, despite what the video appeared to show, that the girl suffered no injury.

In addition, the defense successfully argued that since the girl had spit in the officer's face, he was acting in self-defense and that the level of apparent force used with her was justified under the law.

Legal observers would likely agree that what the defense provided was a broader perspective on events that raised reasonable doubt for the jury about the prosecution's claims.

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