Is Assault by Auto a Felony in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, assault by auto is a crime that often applies to intentional attempts to run someone down with a car, but it is also usually charged alongside drunk driving charges in DUI accidents involving serious injuries. This crime leads to serious criminal charges – but is it a felony? Atlantic City assault with a vehicle defense lawyer John Zarych explains how crimes are graded in New Jersey, what level of crime assault by auto is classified as, and how this is essentially a felony offense in New Jersey.

New Jersey Crime Grades

Most states and the federal criminal justice system use the terms “misdemeanor” and “felony” to grade crimes. A misdemeanor offense is typically classified as any crime that can lead to a year or less in jail. These crimes are often considered minor and may lead to fewer permanent or long-term penalties, such as the inability to vote or own a gun. A felony is any crime that can lead to over a year in potential incarceration. These are often more severe crimes with elements of injury and serious disruption to other people’s lives. In these systems, there is often a lesser offense as well – essentially a traffic ticket for non-traffic offenses. This may be called a “violation,” a “civil offense,” or a “summary offense.”

New Jersey uses a different set of naming standards. Instead of “misdemeanors,” NJ has “disorderly persons offenses.” These offenses are not considered “crimes,” per se, but they can still lead to arrest, jail time, and fines. These also overlap with summary offenses/violations and cover very low-level offenses, calling them “petty disorderly persons offenses.” The equivalent of a “felony” is an “indictable crime” – or simply a “crime.” These crimes are graded at different levels, fourth through first degree, with first degree crimes being the most serious.

Grading of Vehicular Assault Charges in NJ

Under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, vehicular assault is included within the general assault statute. N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c) contains 4 subsections that govern different types of assault by auto, assigning at least one offense level to each type:

Reckless Driving with Injury/Texting While Driving Accidents

N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c)(1) covers any instance of reckless driving that results in injury to another person. This means that you don’t need to intend to hit someone with your car to be charged with assault by auto – the prosecutors just need to prove you were driving recklessly when the accident occurred. Using a cell phone while driving is automatically assumed to be “reckless.”

This type of assault by auto is a fourth degree crime if the injuries qualify as “serious bodily injury,” but the offense is a disorderly persons offense if there is simply “bodily injury.” The difference between these two levels of crime essentially comes down to whether the injuries the victim suffered were permanent or life-threatening.

DWI with Injury

If you were driving while intoxicated (DWI) and caused injuries, the accident could be charged as assault by auto under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c)(2). Again, you do not need to intend to hit anyone; you can be charged with assault by auto as long as you were over the legal limit (.08%) or otherwise impaired while driving.

Again, the severity of the injury changes the grading: “serious bodily injury” results in charges of a third degree crime while regular “bodily injury” results in charges of a fourth degree crime.

DWI with Injury in School Zones

If you were driving under the influence in a school zone, in a school crossing, on school property, or in any other area listed in the statute when the accident occurred, you could be charged under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c)(3). This statute elevates the level of crime by one step, both for bodily injury and serious bodily injury.

For “serious bodily injury,” this crime is elevated to a second degree crime. For “bodily injury,” this crime is elevated to a third degree crime.

Road Rage/Aggressive Driving Assault

Intentionally trying to run someone off the road or hit them with your vehicle can cause serious accidents. This kind of assault by auto is charged under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c)(4). The statute explicitly includes some examples of aggressive driving that qualify under this statute, including swerving, suddenly switching lanes, running red lights, and failing to yield.

If the accident results in “serious bodily injury,” the crime is a third degree crime. If the accident results in “bodily injury,” the crime is a fourth degree crime.

Penalties for Assault with a Vehicle

We’ve gone over the level of crime for each type of assault by auto, but this doesn’t explain the penalties you might face for these charges. Except in the case of reckless driving resulting in non-serious injuries, assault by auto is always an indictable crime – essentially a felony. All types of assault by auto are serious charges that can result in the following penalties:

  • Disorderly persons offenses can lead to fines up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail.
  • Fourth degree crimes can lead to fines up to $10,000 and up to 18 months in prison.
  • Third degree crimes can lead to fines up to $15,000 and 3-5 years in prison.
  • Second degree crimes can lead to fines up to $150,000 and 5-10 years in prison.

Because these sentences and fines are given as a range, your final sentence will be decided by the judge in your case.

Call Our Atlantic City, NJ Assault by Auto Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one was charged with drunk driving or reckless driving and now faces charges of assault by auto as well, contact a lawyer immediately. There are many ways to go about fighting these charges and working to reduce or avoid penalties, and our lawyers may be able to help. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today to schedule a free legal consultation on your case. Our Atlantic City, NJ criminal defense lawyers are available for a free legal consultation at (609) 616-4956.


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