Judgment of Acquittal Standard (Part 8)

by | Dec 17, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Albin dissented. The dissent expressed the view that the direct and inferential evidence — viewed in the light most favorable to the State — cannot rationally justify the murder conviction of Michelle Lodzinski. Noting that a murder conviction cannot rest on speculation, Justice Albin writes that the sustaining of the conviction in this case on such a paucity of evidence has no parallel in this state. Justice Albin also points out that Lodzinski’s status as a single working mother was not a motive for murder and that, among other factors casting doubt on the identification of the blanket, Lodzinski’s estranged niece identified the blanket after first collaborating with the police.

Justice Albin writes that there is no evidence of how Timothy Wiltsey died or the circumstances of his death. Even if the evidence suggests that Lodzinski had some knowledge or even involvement in Timothy’s death, Justice Albin observes, there is absolutely no evidence that she purposely or knowingly caused his death, and there is no evidence to distinguish whether Timothy died by accident or by the negligent, reckless, or purposeful or knowing acts of a person — even if that person were Lodzinski. Justice Albin notes that not even the State’s medical examiner, in opining on the manner of death, distinguished between negligent, reckless, and purposeful or knowing homicide.

Justice Albin stresses that due process requires that the State establish beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the offense, including the accused’s state of mind, which is an essential element necessary to support a murder conviction. The Appellate Division’s judgment upholding defendant’s conviction is upheld by an equally divided Court, and the Court unanimously modifies the Appellate Division’s holding as to the standard of review on a post-verdict motion for a judgment of acquittal. Justices LaVecchia and Pierre-Louis joined in Justice Albin’s dissent.

Justice Albin was an assistant trial prosecutor in Middlesex County. He began his legal career as a prosecutor in the appellate section of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.