In New Jersey, there are laws against violent altercations that become physical enough to rise to the level of “assault.” Anyone who is charged and ultimately convicted of Aggravated Assault – the most serious type of assault crime – could find that their life is destroyed. That’s because Aggravated Assault is classified as a felony-level offense, which means that it comes with the possibility of incarceration, as well as a criminal record. Moreover, there are varying degrees and penalties for Aggravated Assault, which means that certain types of assault could result in even worse punishments. To learn more about the degree and penalties for Aggravated Assault charges in New Jersey, keep reading.
What Is Aggravated Assault?
When it comes to assault charges in New Jersey, there is a crucial distinction between Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault. While both charges can result in significant punishments, the simple fact is that an Aggravated Assault charge is far more likely to result in the defendant being required to serve time behind bars. That’s because Aggravated Assault is classified as an indictable offense, also called a felony. Not only does an Aggravated Assault charge carry the potential for incarceration, but certain types of assault charges can lead to extensive prison time for a defendant who is convicted.
As set forth by N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b), a person can face more serious Aggravated Assault charges in particular circumstances:
- Injuries: When the victim sustained serious bodily injuries that resulted in hospitalization, it’s very possible that what might otherwise have been considered “simple assault” will be elevated to “aggravated assault.”
- Weapon: When the defendant used a gun, knife, or other deadly weapon to commit the assault, it’s very likely that prosecutors will bring Aggravated Assault charges.
- Status of Victim: The identity of the victim can also have a major impact on the prosecution’s decision to file charges for Aggravated Assault instead of Simple Assault. Certain categories of individuals, including police officers, firefighters, emergency medical responders, public school employees, receive special protections under the law.
The reason for the enhanced charges when the assault is committed against a public servant is because the law recognizes the need to protect certain individuals in order to ensure the smooth operation of important governmental and societal tasks. The specific protected classes of public servants that receive these special protections include police officers, firefighters, emergency medical responders, school employees (e.g., school bus drivers), workers with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), and judges.
Degrees of Aggravated Assault Charges in New Jersey
Although all aggravated assault charges are considered felonies and therefore carry the possibility of prison time, the exact degree of your aggravated assault charge is likely to determine whether you are actually sentenced to prison time.
Second Degree Aggravated Assault
The most serious Aggravated Assault charge is a second degree offense. You can be charged with second degree Aggravated Assault if you cause serious bodily injury. Moreover, you can be charged with a second degree offense if you merely attempt to cause serious bodily injury, regardless of whether the victim actually suffered injuries. What exactly is meant by “serious bodily injury,” and how does it differ from an ordinary bodily injury? A serious injury is one that exposes the victim to a significant risk of death, or one that causes the victim to suffer permanent disfigurement. Keep in mind, however, that law enforcement and prosecutors have wide latitude when it comes to making an arrest and bringing charges for second degree assault, so even something as minor as a cut or laceration could result in these higher-level charges.
Another circumstance that can give rise to second degree Aggravated Assault charges is when the assault occurred while attempting to flee or elude police. Basically, if you run from police and you cause any kind of bodily injury to a police officer or anyone else while fleeing, you could face the most serious charges for Aggravated Assault.
Third Degree Aggravated Assault
Third degree Aggravated Assault is a step down from a second degree charge, but it is still considered a felony-level offense. A person can be charged with third degree assault if they cause bodily injury while using a handgun or other deadly weapon. Just like with second degree charges, third degree charges can also be filed against someone who simply attempts to cause bodily injury to another person while using a weapon. Obviously, a key factor in a third degree assault charge is the use of a deadly weapon during the attack. If you are in possession of a gun, knife, or any other object that can be used to inflict violence, you could be at risk of an assault charge on top of any Weapons Offense charges that might apply. Moreover, merely pointing a firearm, or an imitation firearm, in the direction of a police officer could trigger third degree charges.
In addition to the presence of a weapon during the assault, another element of a third degree Aggravated Assault charge stems from the distinction between “serious bodily injury” and “bodily injury.” When the injuries sustained by the victim don’t require hospitalization or result in permanent disfigurement, prosecutors may file a reduced charge for a third degree offense. It is far easier for the prosecution to establish this element of a third degree assault charge because bodily injury basically means any injury at all, whether it involves pain or illness suffered by the victim.
Even if the defendant is not accused of using a weapon, third degree charges may still be appropriate where the defendant’s assault caused significant bodily injury. Under NJ law, a “significant bodily injury” is an injury that results in the victim suffering a short-term – but not permanent – loss of the function of any body part or any of their senses. This means that the victim sustained damage that is more than a mere bodily injury but not at the level of a “serious” bodily injury.
Fourth Degree Aggravated Assault
The lowest Aggravated Assault charge that a person can face is for fourth degree assault, but don’t let that deceive you: it is still a felony, and it still comes with the possibility of incarceration in a state prison for anyone who is convicted or who pleads guilty. Fourth degree assault charges are likely to be filed when the higher-level charges simply don’t apply. Specifically, a person can be charged with fourth degree Aggravated Assault if they injure someone while using a deadly weapon, or if they aim a gun in the direction of someone.
Additionally, a misdemeanor charge for Simple Assault can sometimes be elevated to a felony charge for fourth degree Aggravated Assault depending on the circumstances. It is important to understand that there is a meaningful difference between Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault because the latter is an indictable charge that will go before a grand jury and that can result in prison time for the offender. By contrast, a Simple Assault charge is tried at the lower Municipal Court level, and it typically does not result in the defendant being sentenced to jail time. Even the worst conviction for a simple assault can lead to 6 months in county jail. That is a major difference from a fourth degree aggravated assault, which carries prison time for up to a year and a half.
What Are the Penalties for Aggravated Assault in NJ?
Aggravated Assault is always considered a felony crime, which is why the charges are heard in the county Superior Court as opposed to the local Municipal Court. It’s also why a defendant who is convicted of Aggravated Assault is subject to prison time. In some cases, that prison time can be mandatory because the No Early Release Act (NERA) applies to second degree Aggravated Assault charges. The other penalties for someone who is convicted or who pleads guilty to the charges can include substantial monetary fines of up to $150,000, a criminal record that stands to follow the offender for the rest of their life, a requirement to attend anger management classes, and an order to pay monetary restitution to cover the victim’s medical bills. Of course, the harshest penalty that may be imposed in an Aggravated Assault case is a prison sentence. The range of that prison sentence is determined by the degree of the charge, specifically:
- Second Degree Aggravated Assault: 5-10 years in prison
- Third Degree Aggravated Assault: 3-5 years in prison
- Fourth Degree Aggravated Assault: up to 18 months in prison
If you have been charged with aggravated assault in New Jersey and would like to speak with a dedicated criminal defense lawyer with years of experience handling felony assault charges, contact 973-524-7238 today. Free consultations are entirely confidential and available to meet your needs.