What determines if an attack or a fight is an aggravated or simple assault in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and how to make a self-defense argument.
Our criminal defense lawyers represent individuals charged with indictable crimes in New Jersey as well as persons charged with disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses in the Garden State. In addition, we represent people charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There is a major difference between indictable crimes and disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey as well as felony and misdemeanor crimes in Pennsylvania. With Indictable crimes and felony offenses, the person arrested and charged faces the possibility of State prison or at least county jail.
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.
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.
Maximum Punishments For Crimes & Offenses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
The maximum punishment for a crime of the second degree is ten (10) years of State incarceration and five (5) years of State incarceration for crimes of the third degree. While crimes of the fourth degree carry with them a maximum of punishment of eighteen (18) months of State incarceration. The maximum punishment for a felony of the second degree is 10 years and 7 years for a felony of the 3rd degree. Misdemeanors crimes in Pennsylvania still subject a person to a possible state prison sentence—Misdemeanor of the first degree (5 years); Second Degree (2 years) and 3rd degree (1 year)
Disorderly offenses carry with them a maximum punishment of six (6) months of county incarceration and a $1,000.00 fine, while petty disorderly offenses carry with thirty (30) days of county incarceration and $500.00 fines.
The counter defense argument to an assault of any kind is self defense. Self defense is often a misunderstood concept in criminal defense in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is, however, one of the most utilized arguments in cases involving the criminal charges of homicide (murder, manslaughter), attempted homicide, as well as aggravated and simple assault. Frequently, a person comes into our law firm facing these types of charges and wants us to incorporate the self defense argument into our overall criminal defense strategy.
This is obviously a great argument for the defense but it’s important to understand how it requires the defense and the prosecution to meet specific requirements and obligations. Self-defense is often called “justification.” If the defendant’s actions were “justified,” he or she CAN NOT be found find guilty of a crime such as murder, attempted murder (homicide), aggravated assault and simple assault (misdemeanor).
Many of our clients fail to understand that while the burden is on the prosecution during a criminal trial, the defense is required to assert a self defense argument before the prosecution is required to address it. It’s important to understand that the Commonwealth (through the ADA) or the State (Prosecutor) must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant didn’t actually believe that he was in danger of death or serious bodily injury. In the alternative, the prosecution can also meet its burden of proof if it shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this belief was unreasonable in light of all the circumstances known to the defendant.
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