Understanding Murder, Manslaughter and Assault Charges—What is the difference in New Jersey & Pennsylvania?
Recently a jury in West Chester Pennsylvania (Chester County) found a female defendant not guilty on murder charges but guilty on an involuntary manslaughter (misdemeanor) and aggravated assault (felony) charge. The woman was arrested and charged after she allegedly stabbed 3 persons, one of whom died as a result. This case provides an opportunity to explain the elements of these criminal charges
It is important to understand that within the category of criminal homicide falls murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. Criminal homicide is the intentional, knowing, reckless, or negligently causing the death of another human being. (See 18 § 2501 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-2 – New Jersey).
What is Murder in Pennsylvania and New Jersey?
Murder is the more serious category of criminal homicide and it is separated by 3 degrees in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Murder of the 1st degree is a criminal homicide committed by an intentional act. While murder of the 2nd degree is committed when a homicide occurs while a defendant or his or her accomplice is engaged in committing a felony crime such as robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, arson, kidnapping, or rape. (See 18 § 2502 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-3 – New Jersey).
While New Jersey does not specifically differentiate between murders of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree within its crimes code, it does define the types of murder similarly to Pennsylvania. New Jersey defines all murder as a crime of the 1st degree which is the most serious offense in New Jersey.
Murder which results from an intentional act (murder of the 1st degree in Pennsylvania) carries with it a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Murder of the 2nd degree in Pennsylvania also carries with it a life sentence. While murder of the 3rd degree in Pennsylvania carries with it a maximum sentence of 40 years of state incarceration.
What is Felony Murder?
Murder of the 2nd degree is felony murder in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and so, the principle actor and his or her accomplice face a potential life sentence if convicted of this crime. It is irrelevant if either the principle or the accomplices intended or set out to kill anyone during the commission of the felony.
Murder vs. Manslaughter
What separates murder from manslaughter in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is malice. Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing without lawful justification where the actor kills another due to a sudden and/or intense passion resulting from some serious provocation. Voluntary manslaughter is a felony of the 1st degree in Pennsylvania and a crime of the 2nd degree in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, the maximum sentence for a felony of the 1st degree is 20 years of state incarceration while the maximum sentence for a 2nd degree crime in New Jersey is 10 years. (See 2C: 11-4 – New Jersey). Aggravated manslaughter is a crime of the 1st degree in New Jersey.
What is involuntary manslaughter?
Finally, involuntary manslaughter is the least serious of the crimes within this category. Involuntary manslaughter (Pennsylvania – 18 § 2504) occurs when a person dies as the result of an unlawful act of another who commits it in a reckless or grossly negligent manner or does a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner. Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the 1st degree except where the victim is under the age of 12 and in the care and custody of another where it is a felony of the 2nd degree in Pennsylvania.
Following a criminal complaint, New Jersey, maintains a grand jury system. This is unlike Pennsylvania, which maintains a preliminary hearing system. The purpose of the grand jury and preliminary hearing systems are to ensure that a person is not held for trial without enough justification (probable cause). For more information on felony murder please contact our office.
What is Simple Assault?
One of the most common offenses that our law firm defends in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is assault. Assault is divided into simple and aggravated assault under 2C:12-1 in New Jersey. A simple assault is when a person attempts to cause or purposely knowingly or recklessly causes a bodily injury to another. A simple assault is also if a person negligently causes bodily person to another with a deadly weapon. Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense unless it is committed in a fight or a scuffle entered into by mutual consent, in which case it is a petty disorderly persons offense in New Jersey.
In Pennsylvania, a simple assault (Title 18, Section 2701) is graded as a misdemeanor of the second degree unless it is a result of mutual scuffle, in which case it is misdemeanor of the third degree. A person can also be charged with a simple assault if he or she recklessly causes a bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. In this situation, it is a crime of the fourth degree.
What is Aggravated Assault?
Unlike a simple assault, an aggravated assault in New Jersey is an indictable crime. A person who is guilty of an aggravated assault after he or she causes or attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another. An aggravated assault is also cause if a person or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.
An aggravated assault in New Jersey is a crime of the second degree if the Court finds that a person caused serious bodily injury. It is a crime of the third degree if a person attempts to cause only bodily injury with a deadly weapon. A deadly weapon can be practically anything in New Jersey, just like Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania, similar to New Jersey, classifies aggravated assault (Title 18, Section 2702) based on the circumstances surrounding the incident; it’s a felony grade crime in the Commonwealth
Assaults involving members of a protected class
Like Pennsylvania, in New Jersey, if a person commits an assault or attempts to commit an assault against a member of a protective class, like a police office, EMS, or a firefighter, the State (New Jersey) only needs to establish bodily injury as opposed to serious bodily injury. In this situation, a person would be charged with a crime of the third degree (indictable crime.) This distinction is very important.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in Pennsylvania & New Jersey
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