For a defendant to be found guilty of homicide, the State must prove:
- The victim died;
- The defendant caused the death or serious bodily injury which resulted in death; and
- The defendant acted purposely or knowingly
Death of a Victim
It may seem like an easy task for the State to prove that the victim died, however, if the victim's body is not found, it makes the task all the more difficult. If a body is not found, the State may then prove the death by direct or circumstantial evidence. The evidence may point towards the fact that there has been no sign of the victim's existence which can be done by presenting close friends and family members as well as an analysis of financial records.
Purposely and Knowingly
Despite what some may think, the State is not required to prove that the defendant had a motive to kill the victim. Rather, it is the defendant's subjective state of mind which determines whether the homicide is murder. Therefore, the State must prove that it was the defendant's conscious objective to cause death or serious bodily injury which led to the death, or that the defendant acted with an awareness that the death or serious bodily injury was almost certain to result from their conduct. The requisite Purpose and Knowing elements in a murder prosecution is not provable by direct evidence, so it is gathered from other proof such as conduct of the defendant or the use of a deadly weapon capable of producing death.
Homicide During the Commission of Other Crimes
If the defendant was committing a different type of crime other than homicide, and killed someone during the commission of that crime, the death will likely be ruled to be felony murder. The defendant may have been in the middle of committing a robbery, sexual assault, arson, burglary, kidnapping, carjacking, or criminal escape, when the death occurred. Felony murder is always a first degree crime and does not require intent to be proven for a conviction. For example, if the defendant was robbing a bank with a gun and the gun accidentally fired, causing the death of a bank employee, the defendant would likely be found guilty of felony murder despite the fact that they did not intend to shoot the bank employee.
In New Jersey, if it is proven that a defendant purposely or knowingly caused the death of another human being, they will likely be found guilty of murder. If In New Jersey, murder is considered to be a first degree crime. Crimes in the first degree carry potential penalties of 30 years to life in prison, or life without parole if there are aggravating circumstances such as the murder of a protected person, like a police officer. The state of New Jersey does not adhere to the death penalty.
In New Jersey, manslaughter is governed by N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4. There are three primary types of manslaughter in New Jersey:
- Reckless, and
- Passion as a result of reasonable provocation
In New Jersey, to prove aggravated manslaughter, the State has to show that the defendant acted with extreme indifference to human life. Aggravated manslaughter can also occur if the defendant was attempting to elude law enforcement and caused a death while doing so. If convicted of aggravated manslaughter the defendant will face possible penalties of 10 to 30 years in prison.
To prove reckless manslaughter, the State has to show that the defendant committed the offense while showing a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would result, and their conduct was so grossly below the standard that a reasonable person would have followed under similar circumstances. Reckless manslaughter is considered to be a second degree crime which carries possible penalties of up to 10 years in state prison.
To prove manslaughter stemming from passion as a result of reasonable provocation, the State has to show that the defendant acted out of fear or rage, the type that would have incited a reasonable person to use similar violent force. Further, the timing of the act that caused the death must have been immediate in that the defendant must not have had time to “cool off” prior to committing the act that led to the victim's death. If time did elapse, it is likely that the defendant will face murder charges as opposed to manslaughter charges. Manslaughter as a result of passion is a second degree crime and carries possible penalties of 5 to 10 years in prison.