There are two levels of criminal assault. Simple assault is a misdemeanor, or disorderly persons offense, which results in mild to moderate injury. Aggravated assault, which is a felony or indictable crime, is more serious because it results in severe and sometimes permanent injury. This same concept also applies to sexual assault, which has an aggravated form subject to enhanced penalties in the event of a conviction. In this article, our sexual assault lawyers will explain what makes an offense “aggravated,” and how the criminal penalties change for defendants in New Jersey.
Are Rape and Sexual Assault the Same Crime?
Some states, such as Pennsylvania, make a legal distinction between rape and sexual assault, which are considered separate crimes. In other states, such as New Jersey, these offenses are one in the same.
In accordance with N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-2, which outlines New Jersey’s sexual assault laws, there are two ways sexual assault can be charged:
- The defendant commits any act of “sexual contact” with a victim 12 years old or younger (provided the defendant is “at least four years older than the victim,” i.e. 16 or older).
- The defendant “commits an act of sexual penetration” with anyone, while any of the following factors are also in place.
- The defendant uses force, but doesn’t injure the victim.
- The defendant has power over the victim, who is either on probation/parole or is recuperating at a hospital or other medical facility, due to his or her job (e.g. a probation officer who sexually assaults a probationer).
- The victim is 16 or 17 years old and the defendant is either (1) related to the victim, (2) has authority over the victim (e.g. an employer or teacher), or (3) is a guardian or foster parent.
- The victim is either 13, 14, or 15 years old and the defendant is at least four years older (i.e. at least 17, 18, or 19, respectively).
Sexual assault is a second degree crime (i.e. second degree felony). In New Jersey, second degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, plus a fine of up to $150,000. You also will be required to register as a sex offender. If you have been charged with any of the above crimes, it is imperative to contact an experienced NJ sexual assault defense lawyer immediately.
Enhanced Penalties for Aggravated Sexual Assault
There’s only one type of crime more serious than a second degree crime: a first degree crime. That describes aggravated sexual assault, which carries a fine of up to $200,000 and up to 20 years in prison, as well as mandatory placement on the Sex Offender Registry.
But what makes an offense “aggravated” to begin with?
There are many answers to this question. In fact, there are no fewer than seven different circumstances where a defendant can be charged with aggravated sexual assault “if he commits an act of sexual penetration with another person.”
The first two depend on the victim’s age and relationship to the defendant, as described below:
- The victim is 12 years old or younger.
- The victim is 13, 14, or 15 years old, provided at least one of the following elements are also in place:
- The defendant and victim are related.
- The defendant has authority over the victim based on his or her job or title. This could describe teachers, scout leaders, employers, camp counselors, doctors, dentists, school nurses, church leaders, and any other figures with authority over young teenagers.
- The defendant is the victim’s biological parent, legal guardian, or is acting “in loco parentis,” (e.g. a teacher in the parent’s absence).
The remaining five scenarios deal not with the victim’s age or relationship to the defendant, but the circumstances under which the crime was allegedly committed.
The defendant was simultaneously committing or attempting to commit of any of the following crimes:
- Aggravated Assault
- Homicide (Murder, Manslaughter, Death by Auto)
- The defendant is armed with and uses or threatens to use a weapon (e.g. firearms, knives, brass knuckles). This also includes fake weapons.
- Note that weapons possession can also result in weapons charges.
- The defendant uses force and has help from other people.
- The defendant causes “severe personal injury.”
- The defendant should have known that the victim was unable to give consent due to:
- Having a mental or intellectual disability.
- Being unconscious or otherwise “helpless or incapacitated.”
If you’ve been charged with sexual assault in New Jersey, you’re facing devastating fines and a decade or more in prison. Not only that – you’ll also be forced to join the Sex Offender Registry.
You need to take immediate legal action. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych right away at (609) 616-4956 to set up a free and completely confidential consultation.