In New Jersey, an assault by auto charge is among one of the most severe auto crimes. You may ask yourself, what separates an assault by an auto charge from a careless or reckless driving charge? Can an accident be considered assault by auto? We are here to provide you with all the legal answers you need should you be charged with an assault by auto criminal charge.

Here is everything you need to know about Assault by Auto charges in New Jersey:

What is an Assault by Auto Charge?

Assault by auto laws can be found under Section 2C:12-1(c) of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. The Assault by Auto statute is included as a subsection in the general Assault and Aggravated Assault statute. The prosecutor has the burden to prove each case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

An assault by auto charge in New Jersey occurs when a person drives a vehicle or vessel recklessly and causes serious bodily injury or bodily injury to another. Recklessness is a critical component of an assault by auto charge. It is the reason it is common to see an assault by auto charge alongside a DWI or DUI when an injury is involved after an accident.

Recklessly is defined in our law at N.J.S.A. 2C:2-1a(3) and states that “a person acts recklessly with respect to a material element of an offense when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct and the circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation. “Recklessness,” “with recklessness” or equivalent terms have the same meaning.”

What are the Penalties for Assault by Auto Charges in New Jersey?

The penalties for an assault by auto charge in New Jersey depend on the facts and the circumstances of the allegations and which subsection of the statute the prosecutor charges.

Disorderly Person’s Offense: Assault by auto or vessel is a disorderly person’s offense if a person drives recklessly and bodily injury results.
Fourth Degree: Assault by auto or vessel is a crime of the fourth degree if serious bodily injury results or if the person drives the vehicle while in violation of 39:4-50 (DWI or DUI) and only bodily injury results.
Third Degree: Assault by auto or vessel is a crime of the third degree if the person drives recklessly, drives in violation of 39:4-50 (DWI or DUI), and serious bodily injury results.
Second Degree: An assault by an auto or vessel can be elevated to a second-degree crime from a third-degree crime when the offense occurred (a) on any school property used for school purposes which is owned by or leased to any elementary or secondary school or school board, or within 1,000 feet of such school property (b) driving through a school crossing or (c) driving through a school crossing knowing that juveniles are present if the municipality has not designated the school crossing as such by ordinance or resolution.

If you are found guilty of a second-degree crime, you face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. For a third-degree crime, you face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000; for a fourth-degree crime, you face up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. For a disorderly persons offense, you face up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.00.

What Should I Do if I’m Charged with Assault by Auto in New Jersey?

You can mitigate the penalties or defend yourself with several potential defenses against an assault by auto charge. Which defense will be the best for your specific case depends on the circumstances of your case.

One argument is that the accused was not the one driving the vehicle. Prosecutors must prove who the driver of the vehicle or vessel was at the time of the accident that caused the injury. Sometimes, that fact is unclear and must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Another defense is that the operation of the vehicle or vessel was not reckless. There are many cases in which an accident occurs where an individual is injured, but not all accidents are charged as crimes. In State v. Lutz, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a careless driving case holding that the mere happening of an accident does not automatically give rise to a careless driving conviction. The same logic applies to the reckless operation of a motor vehicle. The mere happening of an accident does not prove recklessness. The prosecutor must prove that the driver consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk.

Moreover, the degree of injury is essential when determining which degree is appropriate. Bodily injury and serious bodily injury are defined differently in our law, and it can be the difference between a fourth-degree crime with a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a disorderly person’s offense with a maximum penalty of 180 days in the county jail.

Finally, in situations where a DWI or DUI is charged to enhance the degree of the crime, Prosecutors must prove the driver was intoxicated. Blood, Urine, and alcotest readings for blood alcohol content (BAC) are often used to prove intoxication. Each evidence must have been obtained lawfully and reliably and is an area of defense when available.

It is imperative to speak to a criminal defense attorney at the Bianchi Law Group, LLC, and see which line of defense is appropriate, if any, for your case. Our team of former prosecutors will also provide a mitigation package on your behalf to the prosecutors to humanize you, which often helps mitigate or reduce the penalties, even if there are no legal defenses available.

I’ve Been Accused of Assault by Auto. What Do I Do Now?

It is essential to know that any assault by auto case in New Jersey is exceptionally serious and can result in you receiving life-changing penalties. Having the right legal team can provide you with the maximum benefits.

The Bianchi Law Group is comprised of a team of former prosecutors whose experience will provide you with a well-crafted defense. They will aggressively fight for your legal rights, not hesitate to bring your case to trial, and fight on your behalf to get you the best legal outcome possible. Having the proper legal defense in your corner can make all the difference.

Call the Bianchi Law Group today to discuss your case.