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.
A sexual assault charge can become “aggravated” if certain factors were present during the commission of the crime. For instance, the presence of severe bodily injury inflicted on the victim can lead to an aggravated sexual assault charge. Additionally, the use of weapons during the commission of the crime and involvement of multiple offenders can elevate the offense to aggravated sexual assault. Moreover, if the victim is under the age of 13 or if they are physically helpless or incapacitated, the crime is automatically categorized as aggravated.
If you were accused of a sex crime, get support from our experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956.
What Constitutes Aggravated Sexual Assault in New Jersey?
The crime of aggravated sexual assault is treated very seriously in New Jersey. Those who are convicted of this offense can be assessed expensive fines and lengthy prison sentences.
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.”
Analysis of Factors that Make Sexual Assault Charges Aggravated in New Jersey
As previously discussed, there are multiple forms of criminal conduct that may result in a charge of aggravated sexual assault in New Jersey. The following is an analysis of factors that may be present in a case involving this crime:
Severe Bodily Injury
Sexual assault can be considered aggravated if it results in severe bodily injury to the victim. This means that if the victim suffers significant physical harm because of the assault, the offense may be categorized as aggravated.
This is an aggravating factor because the presence of severe bodily injury not only indicates a brutal and violent nature of the assault but also poses a significant risk to the victim’s life and well-being, making it a more heinous crime.
The use of a weapon during the commission of a sexual assault is another aggravating factor. This includes any object or instrument used to threaten or harm the victim, such as a knife or firearm.
When a weapon is involved, it escalates the potential danger of the situation. The use of a weapon increases the level of fear and danger experienced by the victim, making the crime more severe and potentially lethal.
When the sexual assault involves multiple offenders, it may be classified as aggravated. The presence of multiple perpetrators suggests a coordinated effort to commit the assault, making it a particularly egregious offense.
As previously mentioned, if the victim is a minor under the age of 13 years old, the sexual assault is automatically considered aggravated, regardless of other factors. New Jersey law is particularly stringent when it comes to protecting minors from sexual offenses. This rule recognizes the vulnerability of children and the need for heightened protection.
Physical Helplessness or Incapacitation
If a victim is physically helpless or incapacitated due to alcohol, drugs, or any other reason that renders them unable to provide consent, it can elevate the charge to aggravated sexual assault. This is because such victims are especially defenseless and unable to protect themselves from harm or make informed decisions.
If the accused has a prior conviction for sexual assault or a similar offense, it can lead to more severe penalties and the classification of the current offense as aggravated. A history of previous sexual offense convictions is considered an aggravating factor because it suggests a pattern of behavior and a higher risk of reoffending. Therefore, the law treats repeat offenders more harshly to protect potential future victims from harm.
Are Rape and Sexual Assault The Same Crime in New Jersey?
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.
Potential Penalties for Aggravated Sexual Assault in New Jersey
There are severe penalties associated with the offense of aggravated sexual assault. For instance, defendants who are convicted of this crime may face any of the following:
Conviction of aggravated sexual assault can result in substantial prison sentences. In New Jersey, a person found guilty of this crime can face a prison term of up to 20 years. The exact duration of the sentence depends on various factors, including the severity of the offense and the presence of aggravating factors, such as the use of weapons or severe bodily injury to the victim.
Apart from the significant prison sentences and registration requirements, individuals convicted of aggravated sexual assault may also face expensive fines. The fines associated with this crime can range up to $200,000 and may add a significant financial burden to the already severe penalties.
Delayed Parole Eligibility
For individuals convicted of aggravated sexual assault, New Jersey law stipulates that they must serve a significant portion of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. The No Early Release Act requires that those sentenced to prison for this crime must serve at least 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, which means a lengthy period of incarceration.
Mandatory Registration as a Sex Offender
A conviction for aggravated sexual assault also entails mandatory registration as a sex offender under New Jersey’s Megan’s Law. This means that the offender’s personal information and address will be made available to the public, and they will be subject to strict reporting requirements, including regular updates of their whereabouts.
Community Supervision for Life
In some cases, individuals convicted of aggravated sexual assault may be subject to community supervision for life (CSL). This involves ongoing monitoring and restrictions on an individual’s activities, including where they may live and work. Violating CSL conditions can result in additional criminal charges.
Additional Consequences of an Aggravated Sexual Assault Accusation in New Jersey
In addition to facing criminal penalties, there are many other consequences that may be suffered by defendants in aggravated sexual assault cases. For instance, those who are accused of this crime may have to endure any of the following:
Loss of Reputation
An aggravated sexual assault conviction can tarnish an individual’s reputation irreparably. Accusations and convictions of this nature can have a devastating impact on personal and professional relationships, leading to social isolation and damaged credibility.
Impact on Employment
A criminal record for aggravated sexual assault can significantly limit future employment opportunities. Many employers conduct background checks. A sex offender registration can deter employers from hiring or retaining an individual, particularly in positions involving trust or working with vulnerable populations.
Finding suitable housing can become a challenge for individuals with an aggravated sexual assault conviction on their records. Like employers, many landlords conduct background checks on prospective tenants. A conviction can result in housing denials or even eviction from current residences.
Contact Our Law Firm for Help with Your Sexual Assault Case in New Jersey
Seek support and guidance from our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956 to set up a free and completely confidential case review.