Aggravated Assault in NJ

New Jersey Aggravated Assault  Charges

Aggravated assault charges don’t always stem from violent or dangerous altercations. Most people think of aggravated assault as an act of violence or aggression threatening physical harm – but that’s not always true.

Sometimes, even a heated verbal argument can be charged as aggravated assault, leading to serious consequences and potential jail time if convicted. That’s why it’s important to speak with an NJ aggravated assault lawyer immediately if you’ve been accused of this serious crime. With the help of a qualified legal professional, you can start building a strong defense and fight for your rights.

At the same time, however, it’s also important to keep in mind that being charged with aggravated assault doesn’t necessarily make you a violent or dangerous person. An accusation doesn’t mean you’re guilty – and fighting back is your right. With the right support, you can stand up for yourself and get through this difficult time.

N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b) – New Jersey Aggravated Assault Law

The New Jersey criminal code sets forth the law for aggravated assault in N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b). This statute lists the different actions or conduct that can lead to a person being arrested and criminally charged with aggravated assault in NJ and the various factors that can affect the severity of the charges. Since aggravated assault is classified as a crime (i.e., felony), all of the possible charges for aggravated assault carry severe penalties.

Second-Degree Aggravated Assault

Second-degree aggravated assault charges in New Jersey are typically reserved for the most serious kinds of assaults. These usually include actions that result in the victim sustaining significant injuries. For instance, the statute declares that a person is guilty of second-degree aggravated assault if they purposely or knowingly cause serious bodily injury to another, or if they do so

“under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

However, it is not always necessary for the defendant to have actually injured someone else. A person can also be charged with second-degree aggravated assault if they merely attempt to cause serious bodily injury. This is meant to discourage anyone from even thinking about harming someone in a way that places that individual’s life in jeopardy.

The statute also explicitly protects law enforcement officers and firefighters by stipulating that a person is guilty of second-degree aggravated assault if they cause bodily injury to anyone else “while fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer” or as a result of “starting a fire or causing an explosion.” Here, it is important to note that the injury does not have to be sustained by the police officer who is pursuing the suspect – if any other person suffers an injury during the pursuit, the offender can be charged with the highest degree of aggravated assault. Similarly, if any emergency services personnel – not just firefighters – suffer an injury while trying to put out a fire started by the defendant, then the defendant can be charged with second-degree aggravated assault.

Third Degree Aggravated Assault

When a person uses a deadly weapon such as a firearm, knife, or another dangerous object to injure someone, third-degree aggravated assault charges may apply. When it comes to this part of the statute addressing handguns and other weapons, the language is extremely broad: the use of just about any weapon in a fight or scuffle can trigger third-degree assault charges.

In fact, it is not even necessary for the offender to actually cause injury while using a weapon. The statute explicitly states that a person is guilty of third-degree aggravated assault if they merely attempt to use a deadly weapon to cause bodily injury.

The NJ criminal code also singles out the use of weapons against police officers and other law enforcement officers. One subsection stipulates that a person who even points or displays a handgun or other firearm against a law enforcement officer can be charged with third-degree aggravated assault. Moreover, the statute covers both handguns and imitation firearms. A person who points, displays, or uses an imitation firearm such as a BB gun, paintball gun, or Airsoft gun to intimidate or threaten a police officer can face third-degree assault charges.

Fourth Degree Aggravated Assault

Although fourth-degree charges are the least serious charges that can be brought against a defendant in an NJ aggravated assault case, a conviction could lead to significant prison time because the crime is still classified as a crime (i.e., a felony). This level of aggravated assault charges typically applies when the assault involves a firearm or when the offender assaults a public servant. Regarding the use of firearms, the statute declares that a person is guilty of fourth-degree aggravated assault if they recklessly cause bodily injury to another while using a deadly weapon or if they point a firearm at someone.

N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b) explicitly protects New Jersey public servants against violent assault by classifying an attack against a public servant as a fourth-degree crime even when the victim did not suffer bodily injury as a result of the attack. These protected public servants include:

  • Police Officers: Law enforcement officers acting in the performance of their duties while in uniform, while exhibiting evidence of their authority, or because of their status as a law enforcement officer.
  • Firefighters: Paid or volunteer firemen acting in performing their duties while in uniform or otherwise clearly identifiable as being engaged in the performance of the duties of a fireman.
  • Emergency Responders: Anyone engaged in emergency first-aid or medical services acting in the performance of their duties.
  • School Employees: School board members, school administrators, teachers, school bus drivers, or other employees of a public or non-public school or school board while clearly identifiable as being engaged in the performance of their duties or because of their status as school employees.
  • DCPP Employees: Employees of the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) while clearly identifiable as being engaged in the performance of their duties or because of their status as DCPP employees.
  • Judges: Any justice of the NJ Supreme Court, judge of the Superior Court, judge of the Tax Court, or municipal judge.
  • NJ Transit Workers: Any operator of a motorbus, the operator’s supervisor, or an employee of a rail passenger service while clearly engaged in the performance of their job duties.
  • Jail Employees: Any Department of Corrections employee, county corrections officer, juvenile corrections officer, NJ state juvenile facility employee, juvenile detention staff member, juvenile detention officer, probation officer, sheriff, undersheriff, or sheriff’s officer acting in the performance of their duties while in uniform.
  • Utility Workers: Utility company employees or cable television company employees who are engaged in the performance of their job duties.
  • Health Care Workers: Health care workers employed by a licensed health care facility to provide direct patient care.
  • State Institution Workers: Direct care workers at an NJ state or county psychiatric hospital, NJ state developmental center, or veterans’ memorial home.

Criminal Penalties for an Aggravated Assault Conviction in New Jersey

Since aggravated assault is considered a crime (i.e., felony) in New Jersey, a defendant charged with aggravated assault will have their case adjudicated in the Superior Court in the county where the offense occurred. If the charge is downgraded to simple assault, the case is moved to the local municipal court. This is an important distinction because the penalties for criminal cases heard in the Superior Court are far more severe than the penalties for disorderly persons offense cases heard in municipal court.

The penalties for aggravated assault in New Jersey are as follows:

  • Second-Degree Aggravated Assault: 5-10 years in NJ state prison
  • Third-Degree Aggravated Assault: 3-5 years in NJ state prison
  • Fourth Degree Aggravated Assault: up to 18 months in NJ state prison

A conviction on second-degree aggravated assault charges, the most serious assault offense under the law, carries a presumption of incarceration. This means that an offender convicted or pleads guilty to the crime will likely be sentenced to prison time regardless of the underlying circumstances. Additionally, it is important to note that aggravated assault is listed in the No Early Release Act (NERA), which is a New Jersey sentencing law that requires offenders convicted of certain violent crimes to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for release on parole. Any of the above-aggravated assault charges can trigger the NERA and a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility.

Civil Penalties for an Aggravated Assault Conviction in NJ

When a person is accused of aggravated assault in New Jersey, criminal charges are not the only negative consequences that the person could face. Depending on the circumstances of your aggravated assault case, it is also possible that you will be subject to civil penalties that could hurt you financially. These civil penalties can potentially be imposed by the Superior Court judge in your criminal case or during a civil proceeding that is separate from your criminal matter. For instance, the criminal court judge may decide to impose a restitution requirement as part of your sentence: you would be required to pay restitution to the assault victim and cover their medical bills, pain and suffering, and related expenses.

Additionally, at the same time as your criminal case (or shortly afterward), the victim may decide to pursue a civil action and sue you for damages. Although the outcome of your criminal charges won’t automatically match the outcome of your civil case, the reality is that a conviction or guilty plea in your criminal case will likely have an effect on your civil matter. This is why it is imperative that your attorney takes the time to explain all of your legal options and makes sure that you understand the implications of taking a plea deal, fighting the charges, etc.

Best Defenses Against Aggravated Assault Charges in NJ

A knowledgeable NJ criminal defense lawyer may be able to get your aggravated assault charges dismissed before there is ever a trial. Absent an outright dismissal, it may be possible for an experienced lawyer to get your aggravated assault charges downgraded to a lesser offense like simple assault. For instance, if your assault charges stemmed from a fight that was entered into by mutual consent – meaning both you and the other person agreed to the fight in advance – then the charges could be reduced to simple assault charges. Since simple assault is classified as a disorderly person’s offense (i.e., misdemeanor), your case would be transferred from the county’s Superior Court to the local municipal court. More importantly, you would no longer be subject to criminal charges in municipal court: instead of facing possible prison time and a permanent criminal record for a conviction, you would likely be subject to reduced penalties like probation, fines, and a requirement to attend anger management counseling classes. Additionally, there is no presumption of incarceration in New Jersey simple assault cases.

The circumstances of your aggravated assault case will dictate whether your attorney can get the charges dismissed or downgraded. If your case goes to trial in the Superior Court, then your attorney may be able to raise affirmative defenses on your behalf. For instance, one affirmative defense in an NJ aggravated assault case is self-defense: your response to someone attacking you might have been reasonable under the circumstances.

Another possibility in your aggravated assault case is admission into a diversionary program like Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). Getting admitted into PTI means that you will have an opportunity to complete certain requirements – such as attending anger management classes, meeting with a probation officer, and avoiding any arrests – and then have the aggravated assault charges dismissed. When this happens, your permanent record will not have a criminal conviction. This is important because getting a violent crime expunged from your permanent record in New Jersey is not always easy.

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