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Accused Can Prepare Defense with Crime Scene Investigation of Victim's Home

November 12, 2014 | Posted In Criminal Law - Criminal Law

According to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, criminal defendants are allowed to inspect the scenes of their alleged crimes, even if the scene happens to be the victim’s home, criminal attorneys in New Jersey report. The justices unanimously reached the decision, which gives people charged with criminal activity the means to prepare a thorough defense as part of their right to a fair trial by jury.

The Case: State of NJ In the Interest of A.B.

Justice Barry Albin wrote that “when the defense has made a legitimate request to inspect a crime scene that is an alleged victim’s home and has articulated a reasonable basis to believe the inspection will lead to relevant evidence on a material issue, then, subject to appropriate time, place, and manner restrictions intended to protect the privacy interests of the alleged victim and her family, the discovery should be granted.” In the case in question, State of New Jersey in the Interest of A.B., 17-year-old defendant A.B. had been charged with the sexual assault of his 6-year-old niece. The alleged assaults took place throughout the girl’s home in Old Bridge, N.J., and at least one was in her bedroom.

During the investigation, the police took over 40 photos of the home, which the defendant was allowed to inspect. However, his criminal defense attorney wanted permission to look in the house itself, because he claimed that the girl’s room was visible from both outside and other areas of the house, making it impossible for A.B. to sneak into the room to commit the assault, especially during high-traffic events like the 2011 Fourth of July barbeque. The judge granted A.B. and his attorney access, but under a series of conditions, including a 30-minute window for the inspection, the stipulation that A.B.’s parents could not accompany him, and that the girl’s family had to agree to the inspection time and be present in the home or outside of it.

On appeal, the prosecutor’s office objected to the search as a violation of the victim’s privacy. The judges disagreed with the prosecution, labeling the inspection process as “critical” to a defense attorney’s preparation methods. The opinion noted, “A criminal trial where the defense does not have ‘access to the raw materials integral to the building of an effective defense’ is fundamentally unfair.” The justices cited several other cases where this has been proven.

Know Your Rights

Every defendant has a right to a fair trial, which includes his or her right to prepare a complete defense with the help of a criminal attorney in New Jersey. The inspection of an alleged crime scene can be crucial to the defense’s preparations, and as the state Supreme Court noted, cases have been dismissed or overturned when defendants were not granted that right. However, Justice Albin warned defendants not to abuse this right, and to demonstrate the necessity for the inspection.  

At the law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal attorneys in New Jersey represent clients who have been charged with criminal activity and need to build a solid defense case. Contact an HCK lawyer today to discuss your options. 

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