The Unique Law on Strangulation in New Jersey

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Charged with Aggravated Assault under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(13) in Middlesex County

In 2017, New Jersey Senators Linda Greenstein and Paul Sarlo sponsored legislation making strangulation under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act a third degree crime. Prior to the introduction of the bill, strangulation was subsumed under the simple assault statute, which made the charge a lower level disorderly persons offense. After the enactment of S-3209, strangulation became a felony crime and if convicted of the offense, the defendant faced as much as 5 years in state prison. The bill was well received by all 34 Senators and 78 members of the voting Assembly, as not one person voted against the increase of the charge. Since then, New Jersey lawmakers adopted yet another measure, S-2503, which yet again raises the level of strangulation charges. What was once a third degree felony charge is now a second degree felony, likewise elevating the penalties from a maximum of 5 years in prison, to a maximum of 10. The theory behind the enhanced punishment is that domestic violence often starts with acts of strangulation and the abuser graduates to more egregious conduct over time. In essence, the Senators believed that those who commit acts of strangulation against domestic partners should be punished more severely than those committing such acts against strangers.

While it is understood that there is a need to prevent domestic abuse, the law has become a weapon utilized to unfairly punish the accused without proof. The charge of strangulation under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(13) has far-reaching consequences to those who have the misfortune of being convicted.  These consequences are both criminal and civil in nature and can prove damaging to all parties involved. In fact, being accused of strangulation in New Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, Woodbridge, Metuchen, South Brunswick, or another nearby town means the possibilities have opened up for criminal charges and a restraining order against you. Our domestic violence defense attorneys believe that there is a need to protect the accused from unfounded allegations and the consequences that ensue when the state or the plaintiff who files a temporary restraining order brings a case without sufficient proof. When you are facing such serious allegations, we will examine the nuances of your case to develop the best approach for handling these claims. Call our local Middlesex County office today at (732) 659-9600 to discuss your strangulation case and our potential representation.

Strangulation is a Felony Assault Offense in New Jersey

Prior to 2017, strangling or obstructing a person’s airway was categorized a disorderly persons offense. Disorderly persons offenses are much like misdemeanors in that they are not considered felony crimes, meaning they are not subject to indictment in Superior Court. The legislature changed the law twice in the last several years, elevating it to what is now a second degree crime to obstruct the airway of any person who meets the definition of a victim under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Specifically, it is a second degree crime for anyone to “knowingly” or “recklessly” obstruct the “breathing or blood circulation” of anyone who is a defined party under the Act.

The Domestic Violence Act protects people from abuse who are in a current relationship with the actor, had a prior relationship with him or her, are a current or former household member, or are someone with whom they have had a child or soon to have one. Not everyone who is alleged to be a victim falls into this category but there are plenty of people who do. Girlfriends and boyfriends, brothers and sisters, roommates, relatives having lived together, current or former spouses, and one night stands are common examples of persons who are protected under the Act and the subsequent laws amending the assault statute. If the relationship does not fall into this category, then then the offense is a simple assault, a disorderly persons charge as opposed to an indictable offense.

Serious Penalties can Happen if you are Convicted of Strangulation in Middlesex County NJ

If you have been found guilty of strangulation or obstructing someone’s airways and the crime is of the second degree due to the context of domestic violence, you can be sentenced to state prison.  The length of the prison term depends on many factors such as your role in the fight, your prior history, the victim’s wishes, and your current state of remorse or willingness to take responsibility.  However, at the most basic level, anyone found guilty of a second degree assault can be sentenced to 5 to 10 years in New Jersey State Prison and be forced to pay a $150,000 fine at the top end of the range. Additionally, you may be ordered to undergo treatment for anger management, to pay restitution for damages sustained by the victim, and you could have civil consequences as well.

For many accused of crimes of domestic violence, companion civil proceedings take place. This can be initiated by the police who file for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the victim’s behalf at a domestic violence scene, or if the victim themselves seeks a TRO at the Municipal or Superior Court or local police station. First, a temporary order is issued and then a final hearing takes place at a later date in front of a Middlesex County Family Division Judge. At the final hearing, the judge will hear testimony from witnesses and listen to both sides of the story. In making a determination of whether to grant the request for the final order, the judge considers whether the victim is afraid and needs protection from abuse and if an act of domestic violence occurred, both in the current case and previously. If so, he or she issues a protection order that is final (FRO) and permanently restrains the accused from having contact with the victim.  This order can further prohibit or restrain the accused from having contact with the children in common, relatives,  or from going to the location of the alleged victim’s work, home, children’s school, or near family members or others for whom protection is sought.

violation of a restraining order can result in further criminal or quasi-criminal proceedings such as contempt charges, probation, or violations of probation. Lastly, the alleged perpetrator, upon conviction, is forced to give up his firearms, right to bear arms, and the right to obtain a firearms ID card.

Call Domestic Violence Defense Lawyers for Clients Facing 2C:12-1(b)(13) Charges in New Brunswick NJ

The fact is that the law against domestic violence is fairly strict and thus, limits the ways in which these cases can be resolved.  For example, you are not usually entitled to diversionary programs that others may be able to easily apply for, such as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). In essence, reaching a beneficial outcome when charged with assault of any kind in a domestic violence case can be a difficult task if you do not have the tools and the wherewithal to do so. Our domestic violence defense lawyers know how the best results can be achieved in strangulation cases and we can assist with all manner of criminal abuse charges and restraining orders that you may be facing in North Brunswick, Carteret, Old Bridge, East Brunswick, and throughout Middlesex County, NJ. Notwithstanding an alternative resolution, there are ways to fight the strangulation charges against you or a loved one. In some cases, the law may not apply to you under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, while in others, you may have been the victim and were merely defending yourself. Whatever the case may be, we will instruct you at every stage, from your domestic violence detention hearing through trial and beyond. To find out more and talk through your situation with a lawyer free of costs, contact us at (732) 659-9600.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.