What Degree is Assault in New Jersey?

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Assault is classified as a violent crime in New Jersey, which means that it carries significant penalties for anyone who is convicted of an assault charge. However, the scope of those penalties can vary widely, depending on the degree of the charge. In some cases, an assault charge can result in significant prison time. In other cases, an assault charge may not expose the defendant to any jail or prison time at all. Regardless of the type of assault charge you face, it is imperative that you speak to a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer who can explain the relevant laws and help you understand your legal options. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at William Proetta Criminal Law if you would like to discuss assault charges of any kind that have been filed against you or a loved one in Middlesex County. Our experienced criminal lawyers can answer all of your questions and explain the specific ways in which your case may be successfully defended in a free consultation. Call (732) 659-9600 for immediate assistance or reach out to us online today.

Here is what determines the degree of an assault charge in New Jersey and what the implications of a lower or higher degree are for the defendant in an assault case. 

What Degree is Simple Assault?

Simple assault is the least serious type of assault charge in New Jersey. Generally speaking, any kind of physical altercation that does not result in the victim suffering significant harm could result in a charge for simple assault. When a person either purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to someone else, or when a person negligently causes bodily injury while using a deadly weapon such as a firearm, prosecutors may file simple assault charges.

Simple assault charges are addressed in the NJ criminal code by N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a). As set forth by the statute, simple assault is usually classified as a disorderly persons offense (a misdemeanor). This means that the harshest penalty that can be imposed for a simple assault conviction is jail time. Specifically, a conviction or a guilty plea for a disorderly persons charge of simple assault is punishable by a sentence of up to six (6) months in the county jail. Other penalties that may be imposed for simple assault include a fine of $1,000, a court order to perform community service, court-mandated counseling to deal with anger or related issues, and a requirement to pay restitution to the victim of the assault for medical expenses, pain and suffering, etc.

When the simple assault charge stemmed from a fight entered into by mutual consent, or “mutual combat,” then the charge can be reduced to a petty disorderly persons offense. A conviction for this type of simple assault typically results in even less severe punishments. The maximum penalty is a sentence of up to 30 days in jail, in addition to a maximum fine of $500.

Will You Go to Jail for a Simple Assault Conviction?

Although the penalties for simple assault can include jail time, most simple assault convictions do not actually result in the offender being required to serve time in jail. That’s because there is a presumption of non-incarceration for simple assault charges, which means that first-time offenders with no prior criminal record are likely to be sentenced to probation or given a suspended sentence in lieu of being sentenced to jail. Even in the event that this was not the defendant’s first criminal charge, it is still possible that a seasoned criminal defense attorney will be able to get the simple assault charges downgraded to a lesser offense such as disorderly conduct. This is important because a guilty plea to a reduced charge typically makes it even more likely that the defendant will be able to avoid jail time.

What Is the Difference Between a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Degree Assault Charge?

When a physical altercation causes the victim to sustain serious bodily injuries, or certain other important elements apply, the charges may be elevated from simple assault to aggravated assault. So, what exactly differentiates a second, third, or fourth degree aggravated assault charge from a disorderly persons charge for simple assault? Aggravated assault charges are addressed in the NJ criminal code by N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b). The statute specifies the circumstances in which a charge for aggravated assault is appropriate. Generally speaking, if the defendant used a deadly weapon, or if the defendant caused severe injuries to the victim, then it is likely that prosecutors will file aggravated assault charges instead of simple assault charges.

This has major consequences for the defendant because aggravated assault is treated much more seriously by the state, and the charge carries far more severe penalties that may include being sentenced to state prison. For starters, unlike simple assault, aggravated assault is classified as an indictable offense (a felony). This means that the case will be handled in the county superior court, where a grand jury must first indict the defendant on the charges before the case is sent to trial.

Consequences of Felony Assault Charges by Degree

The degree of your aggravated assault charge is typically determined by the severity of the harm suffered by the victim, the involvement of a weapon, whether you were eluding police at the time, or if the victim is a public servant serving in official capacity. The possible penalties you face if convicted are determined by the degree of the charges. The most significant penalty, jail time, for each degree is as follows:

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

Keep in mind that second degree assault charges have a presumption of incarceration, so a conviction for the most serious type of aggravated assault is likely to result in the defendant being automatically sentenced to serve time in prison. Additionally, it is also important to note that aggravated assault is specifically cited in the No Early Release Act (NERA). This means that a conviction on second degree assault charges may carry a minimum mandatory prison sentence, with the offender not becoming eligible for release on parole until they have served at least 85% of their sentence.

What Degree is Assault on Law Enforcement or Public Officials?

While the severity of the victim’s injuries is usually the most important factor for determining whether aggravated assault charges are appropriate, the identity of the victim can also determine the degree of an assault charge. That is because certain individuals have special protections under New Jersey law, including police officers and other public officials such as firefighters, emergency responders, school bus drivers, judges, and employees with the NJ Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).

If you are accused of committing a simple assault against a law enforcement official while resisting arrest or under any other circumstances, you could face elevated charges for aggravated assault: fourth degree charges if the police officer was unharmed, and third degree charges if the officer suffered bodily injuries. Similarly, what would ordinarily be classified as mere simple assault is elevated to aggravated assault when it is committed against a public servant who was on the clock and engaged in performing their official duties. Moreover, an assault against a police officer or other public official may be classified as fourth degree assault even if you did not physically touch the victim.

What Degree is Assault by Auto?

A special type of assault charge in New Jersey is assault by auto, which deals with car accidents caused by a reckless motorist and resulting in injuries. An example of reckless driving would be operating a motor vehicle while texting or talking on a cell phone. Assault by auto charges are addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c), which stipulates the range of penalties for a conviction or guilty plea:

  • Up to 6 months in jail for a motorist who recklessly operated their vehicle and caused bodily injury to the victim.
  • Up to 18 months in prison for a motorist who recklessly operated their vehicle and caused serious bodily injury to the victim.
  • 3-5 years in prison for an intoxicated motorist who caused serious bodily injury to the victim.
  • 5-10 years in prison for an intoxicated motorist who drove in a school zone and caused serious bodily injury to the victim.

Looking for a Lawyer for Assault Charges in Middlesex County NJ

If you or a loved one has been charged with assault of any degree, we strongly urge you to seek counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney. A highly qualified criminal lawyer with hands-on experience defending against misdemeanor and felony assault charges in New Jersey can look at the specific circumstances surrounding your arrest and associated assault charges to determine the best approach for successfully resolving your case. Depending on the allegations, evidence, and the degree of the assault crime you have been charged with, a good lawyer knows how to investigate and pursue all of your available options for avoiding jail or even a conviction entirely.

William Proetta Criminal Law’s defense team has years of background defending clients charged with assault in Edison, Woodbridge, New Brunswick, South Brunswick, Piscataway, Monroe, East Brunswick, and surrounding towns throughout Middlesex County. If you would like to talk through the details of your assault case with an attorney who can advise and assist you further, contact our office at (732) 659-9600 or send us a message online today. We are pleased to provide 24/7 access to free consultations.

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.