What happens to a criminal defendant when the prosecution introduces evidence that may bias the defendant’s case? If you or a loved one faces a criminal case, you should understand the danger of introducing evidence that could negatively bias the court against fully hearing the facts of the case.
Recently, a New Jersey criminal defendant, Vonte Skinner, was on trial for attempted murder and discovered how prejudicial evidence held the key to his freedom or conviction. To show he had a violent mindset, the prosecution used his own words against him. Those words had been intended as lyrics to rap songs, not as a confession to the alleged crime. His case has reached the state’s Supreme Court to decide whether the lyrics should have been admitted at all.
This type of evidence requires the judge to decide the probative value of the evidence, just as it did in Vonte Skinner’s case. The judge must decide the ultimate question: what purpose does the evidence serve?
Proof of the defendant’s general bad character serves the purpose of showing that the defendant is the type of person who would commit the crime. This type of evidence can unfairly and improperly suggest that since the defendant was of bad character he therefore likely committed the crime. The same applies of attempts to show the good character of the defendant—that he or she is the kind of person who would not break this law.
Jurors are asked to weigh the evidence objectively by not allowing their strong emotions to cloud the facts. This character evidence does not prove innocence or guilt about the facts of the case, but attempts to provide context for deliberations. Prejudicial evidence can provide information about the defendant—for example, routine sayings or habits—but, if it could potentially confuse the jury’s objective judgment, then the judge must decide whether the evidence stays or goes.
This type of situation is very common. Working with an experienced and assertive New Jersey criminal defense attorney can make a big difference during trial.