Many times clients ask me about the difference between simple assault and aggravated assault in New Jersey. The short answer is the degree of force involved, the nature of the injuries to the alleged victim, and whether or not a weapon was used.
Simple assault is governed by N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1 which provides:
§ 2C:12-1. Assault
a. Simple assault. A person is guilty of assault if he:
(1) Attempts to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; or
(2) Negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or
(3) Attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense unless committed in a fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent, in which case it is a petty disorderly persons offense. Simple assault charges will be handled in the Municipal Court in the municipalitiy in which the alleged assault occurred. A disorderly persons offense is a criminal offense with a maximum penalty of a $1,000.00 fine and six (6) months in the county jail.
Aggravated assault is governed by N.J.S.A. 2C: 12-1(b) and is an indictable criminal offense in New Jersey. This means that it must be handled at the Superior Court in the County in which the alleged offense occurred. Aggravated assault can be graded as a 2nd degree, 3rd degree, or 4th degree crime, depending on the circumstances of the offense and the nature of the alleged victim (for example, if the victim was a law enforcement officer).
Typically, a bar fight or street fight results in simple assault charges being filed unless one of the parties is seriously injured. Further, the charges may be aggravated assault if there were multiple actors on one victim or a weapon was used. Many times cases are originally charged as aggravated assault and then reviewed by the County Prosecutor’s Office and downgraded to simple assault.