Assault by auto, also known as vehicular assault, is a very serious criminal offense in New Jersey. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant who is convicted faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, in addition to staggering fines as high as $150,000. Beyond these devastating penalties, convicted offenders also face the life-long burden of having a criminal record, which can pose major obstacles to employment, student loans, and professional licenses and certifications.
When the potential consequences are this severe, it’s critically important to take immediate legal action. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our dedicated criminal defense attorneys bring over four decades of practical experience to every case we work on. We will guide you through each step of the criminal justice process, vigorously defend your Constitutional rights, and build a sophisticated, nuanced defense strategy with the aim of having your charges reduced or dismissed completely.
Our bilingual team offers legal services in English and Spanish, and serves both adults and juveniles alike. We are proud to represent clients throughout Atlantic City and the surrounding area. To arrange a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call our auto assault lawyers today at (609) 616-4956.
When Can a Defendant Be Charged with Assault by Auto in Atlantic City?
Every state has its own set of laws governing vehicular assault charges. In New Jersey, the relevant statute is N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1c. This statute describes the grounds for the charges, and explains the way the offense is categorized, or graded.
In accordance with N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1c, a defendant can be charged with assault with a vehicle when he or she “drives a vehicle or vessel recklessly and causes either serious bodily injury or bodily injury to another.” This extends to cars, trucks, motorcycles, vans, mopeds, boats, and any other vehicles which are not human-powered. Reckless driving is defined by N.J.S.A. § 39:4-96 as driving “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others,” in a way puts other people into danger. However, intent to cause injury is not a necessary element of the charges.
In order to understand how this offense is graded and penalized, it’s important to understand the unique terminology used by New Jersey’s criminal courts. While most states divide crimes into misdemeanors, which are less serious, and felonies, which are more serious, New Jersey uses a slightly different system.
In Atlantic City, misdemeanors are divided into two categories: disorderly persons offenses (DP offenses), and petty disorderly persons offenses (petty DP offenses). While DP and petty DP offenses are classified as offenses rather than crimes, the difference for the defendant is purely technical, as a conviction will still result in fines, incarceration and/or probation, as well as the creation of a criminal record. More serious offenses are called and classified as crimes, which are equivalent to felonies in other states.
NJ Criminal Penalties for Vehicular Assault
Assault by auto has the potential to be graded as a DP offense or a crime. It depends on factors such as the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the victim(s), whether the defendant was driving while intoxicated (DWI), and the type of property where the accident occurred.
Vehicular assault is only a DP offense in cases where the victim sustains “bodily injury.” If the victim sustains a “serious bodily injury,” the offense becomes a crime of the fourth degree. Thus, it is crucial to understand when bodily injury becomes serious.
N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-1 defines “bodily injury” as any injury which causes “physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.” The definition of a “serious bodily injury” is narrower, because it must involve at least one of the following:
- “Substantial risk of death.”
- “Serious, permanent disfigurement.”
- The long-term “loss or impairment” of any body part or internal organ.
Assault by auto escalates to a third degree crime if:
- The defendant causes serious bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- The defendant causes bodily injury while committing DWI/DUI on school property or in a school zone (within 1,000 feet of school property).
- If the accident causes serious bodily injury, it becomes a second degree crime.
- Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1c, it is not a defense for the defendant to say they didn’t know they were in a school zone.
A defendant who is convicted of a DP offense faces a fine of up to $1,000, and a jail sentence of up to six months. If convicted of a fourth degree crime, he or she may be fined up to $10,000 and incarcerated for up to a year and a half (18 months). Third degree crimes can result in fines of up to $15,000 and up to five years in prison. If convicted of a second degree crime, the defendant faces up to a decade in prison and debilitating fines as high as $150,000 – a tenfold increase from the fine for a third degree crime. If the accident involved intoxicated driving, the defendant can also face penalties associated with DWI/DUI, such as driver’s license suspension, road safety classes, and treatment for substance abuse.
If you or your child was arrested for assault by auto in Atlantic City, you need an experienced and aggressive criminal attorney on your side. To schedule a free legal consultation, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 today. Se habla español.