When a person drives a vehicle in New Jersey and collides with another person, vehicle or stationary object and someone is hurt as a result, the driver can be charged with assault by automobile [N.J.S.A 2C:12-1(c)]. The offense can be charged as a disorderly persons offense or an indictable offense and can result in serious jail time and a huge fine. While alcohol is a common factor in someone being charged with assault by automobile in NJ, it is not required. Regardless, anyone charged with assault should get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney who can work hard to mitigate the possible consequences.
What is Assault by Automobile?
Assault by automobile is when a person drives recklessly and, as a result of that recklessness, causes injury to another. While most charges of assault by automobile relate to drivers of cars or other street vehicles, it can also apply to those driving boats. The offense can be charged at different levels depending on a number of factors, including the level of harm done, meaning bodily injury or serious bodily injury. Bodily injury includes physical pain, illness or impairment of physical condition; serious bodily injury implies a substantial risk of death, serious or permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of a part of the body.
Penalties and Fines
The severity of an assault by automobile charge depends on several factors, including:
- How badly injured the victim was.
- Whether the driver was drunk.
- Whether the incident took place near a school or school crossing.
At its most basic level, if the driver is operating in a reckless manner and unintentionally injures a person, then the offense is charged as a disorderly persons offense, with a potential punishment of 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Assault by automobile becomes a fourth-degree crime (indictable offense) if there is bodily injury and either the defendant was driving while intoxicated or was driving aggressively toward another vehicle. It can also be a fourth-degree crime if there is serious bodily injury but no other aggravating factors. Penalties include up to 18 months in prison and $10,000 in fines.
The offense rises to a third-degree crime if there is bodily injury and the driver was both intoxicated and the incident occurred within 1,000 feet of a school or at a school crossing. If the victim suffered serious bodily injury and the driver was either drunk or driving aggressively toward another vehicle, this is also a third-degree crime. This carries a possible punishment of 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
In the most extreme cases, assault by automobile can be charged as a second-degree offense when there is serious bodily injury and the driver was both intoxicated and the injury occurred within 1,000 feet of a school or at a school crossing. This is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
How To Beat Assault by Automobile Charges
In order for prosecutors in New Jersey to convict someone for assault by automobile they must prove three things:
- The defendant was driving a vehicle.
- The defendant caused bodily injury or serious bodily injury to the victim.
- The defendant caused such injury by driving the vehicle or vessel recklessly.
In order to establish that the defendant caused the injury, prosecutors must prove that the victim would not have been injured if it weren’t for the defendant’s conduct.
A skilled defense attorney can review the facts of the case to prevent the prosecutors from proving all three elements. This may mean dismantling arguments showing that the victim was injured or explaining how the driver’s behavior was reasonable for the situation. In many cases, the best defense may be to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense with less severe penalties.
Case Law Analysis
Consequences for Juveniles
Drivers ages 16 and 17 who are charged with assault by automobile will likely have their cases heard in Family Court. This court system is different than the adult criminal court system and judges are tasked with taking into account what is ultimately best for the child. Given the seriousness of a charge of assault by automobile, juveniles will need the help of a skilled defense attorney to avoid the worst possible consequences.
Enrolling in NJ Diversionary Programs
Those facing a charge of assault by automobile can potentially avoid a conviction by enrolling in a diversionary program. New Jersey offers several such programs, including Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), Conditional Discharge, and Conditional Dismissal. The eligibility requirements for each vary. Diversionary programs offer an opportunity for a person to demonstrate that he/she can rehabilitate without being incarcerated. If the program is successfully completed, the defendant will avoid a conviction and the resulting criminal record. Each diversionary program is tailored to the individual and the charge in question and may include counseling, drug testing, probation, community service and more.
Expunge Assault by Automobile
Although severe, a conviction for assault by automobile can be expunged if the person otherwise meets the necessary criteria. A person can clear his/her criminal record if it has no more than 4 disorderly persons offenses or 1 indictable offense and 3 disorderly persons offense. That means if assault by automobile was charged as an indictable offense, then it must be the only indictable offense on one’s criminal record. In addition, one must wait 5 years after completing the sentence for the most recent conviction (6 if it was an indictable offense) before filing.
Having one’s criminal record expunged can remove many obstacles and difficulties caused by a conviction. However, a few mistakes or errors in the paperwork can result in a denial of the expungement; as such, it is best to hire an attorney with experience in such matters to ensure the best possible odds of success.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with assault by automobile or any other criminal offense in New Jersey, consult with an attorney right away. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people in such serious circumstances. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.