New Jersey Simple Assault

In New Jersey, an assault occurs when a person injures or attempts to injure another person without legal justification. Assault can be charged as either a simple assault or an aggravated assault. The different levels of assault depend on several factors, including the seriousness of a victim’s injury, whether the defendant used a weapon or object to cause an injury, and (in some cases) whether a victim is provided special protection by New Jersey law. This article deals solely with simple assault.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:12-1.)

To read about aggravated assault, see Aggravated Assault in New Jersey.

What is Simple Assault?

There are three ways to commit simple assault. First, a person commits simple assault by either attempting to or actually causing someone else to suffer a bodily injury. The injury must have been caused either purposely, knowingly, or recklessly. Second, simple assault can also occur if a person negligently injures someone else by using a deadly weapon. Third, it is also a simple assault to put another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

Bodily injury and serious bodily injury

A bodily injury occurs when a victim suffers at least some physical – not mental – injury or pain. That is because New Jersey law defines bodily injury as “physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.” In contrast, a serious bodily injury creates a substantial risk of death, or long-term disfigurement or loss or impairment of an organ. Common examples include losing an eye or finger or suffering a permanent limp as a result of the injury.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:11-1.)

Acting purposely

A person causes an injury purposely when the person wanted the injury to occur.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:2-2.)

Acting knowingly

A person causes an injury knowingly when the person is aware that his actions will almost certainly cause injury.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:2-2.)

Acting recklessly

A person acts recklessly when he “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that his actions will cause an injury. That means that a person is reckless when he is aware that his actions will likely cause the injury, but he just doesn’t care.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:2-2.)

Acting negligently

A person causes an injury negligently when he should be aware but fails to realize that his actions will cause injury. In the context of simple assault’s scenario of causing an injury negligently by using a deadly weapon, negligence would be demonstrated if a defendant hurled a brick toward a person and made contact, even though the defendant had not intended to actually make contact.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:2-2.)

Deadly weapon

A “deadly weapon” includes not only traditional weapons like firearms and knives, but also any object or substance that, while not usually a weapon, can nonetheless be used in a way that is readily able to cause death or serious bodily injury. For example, a heavy tree limb or brick used to hit someone becomes a deadly weapon.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:11-1.)

Penalties

Simple assault is categorized as a disorderly persons offense, unless the injury occurred as a result of a consensual fight or scuffle, in which case it is a petty disorderly persons offense. A defendant convicted of simple assault can be fined, ordered to make restitution, or both. The fine cannot exceed $1,000 in the case of a conviction for a disorderly persons offense, or $500 for a petty disorderly persons conviction. A judge can, however, order a higher fine not to exceed double the amount of loss suffered by the victim.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 2C:12-1, 2C:43-3.)

Note that, while simple assault is ordinarily a low level disorderly persons offense, there are two situations where it is treated as a higher level crime of the fourth degree, which carries a potential prison term of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Those situations are committing a simple assault:

  • while working as an employee in care facility against an institutionalized elderly person, or
  • while in the presence of a child under 16 years of age at a school or community sponsored youth sports event (in this situation, it is irrelevant whether the defendant knew that the person was younger than 16, or mistakenly believed the person to be older than 16).

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 2C:12-1, 2C:43-3, 2C:43-6.)

Consult With a Lawyer

Despite the innocuous name of the crime, being charged with simple assault is a serious matter. It is quite advisable to consult with an attorney having knowledge of the assault laws and penalties applicable in your particular case. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney may be able to convince a prosecutor that a defendant either did not intend to cause an injury or at least did not cause a serious enough injury to merit an assault charge. That could result in lesser punishment (perhaps by pleading guilty to a lesser offense such as disorderly conduct) or even dismissal of a case.

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