It is generally illegal to use a weapon on someone else, except in some cases of self-defense. Assault laws and weapons laws usually prohibit using weapons to attack someone else, or they make charges worse if a “deadly weapon” was used. What is considered a “deadly” weapon is often broadly interpreted, allowing police and prosecutors to allege that many items – even household objects – are in fact “deadly weapons.” The Atlantic City aggravated assault with a deadly weapon lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych discuss what qualifies as a “deadly weapon” in New Jersey and how this can affect your criminal charges.

New Jersey’s Definition of a “Deadly Weapon”

N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-1(c) defines a “deadly weapon.” This law is usually referenced by other statutes dealing with assault, kidnapping, burglary, and robbery. Other offenses, such as drug possession and drug trafficking charges, might be enhanced if you use a gun, or the judge might hand down more severe penalties because of the use or possession of a gun or another weapon. Those definitions may use a different definition of “deadly weapon,” but for purposes of violent crimes, a “deadly weapon” is defined quite broadly.

Under § 2C:11-1(c), a deadly weapon is essentially any item that could be used to “produce death or serious bodily injury.” The question for this definition is not whether the item is usually used as a weapon or usually used to kill people. Instead, the legal question focuses on the capability to cause death or injury with the object.

Items clearly designed as “weapons” certainly qualify under this definition. This would include things like handguns, rifles, swords, and daggers. Many household items make extremely good weapons as well and are popularly considered “deadly weapons” even though they also have a nonviolent use. This would include things like kitchen knives, baseball bats, hammers, and other sharp or heavy household items.

The statute also extends the definition to include a “material or substance” as well as a “device” or “instrument.” This means that chemicals and liquids can also be considered weapons. Strong acid can be an extremely violent weapon, as can poison. Wording this statute this way works to include these sorts of dangerous items as well.

The statute also specifically includes “animate or inanimate” things within its definition. This means that, while inanimate objects like hammers or knives can be weapons, so can animate things like a dog. Dogs are one of the most common living weapons that people use to cause injury. Many people, whether this is legal or not, train their dogs to defend their homes, fight other dogs, or attack people. Any animal used by a person to cause injury to someone else has the potential to be considered a weapon.

Having something considered a “deadly weapon” depends on how it is used. A gun is clearly a deadly weapon, but if it is used to pistol whip someone or it is swung like a club, is it still considered a “deadly weapon”? Generally speaking, blunt force trauma is easily capable of killing, so using a pistol or rifle as a blunt instrument might still mean that the weapon is considered a “deadly weapon.”

Criminal Charges for Deadly Weapons

Various crimes use this definition of “deadly weapon” to different effects. One of the easiest to understand is the assault statute, which automatically upgrades the crime to “aggravated assault” if the perpetrator uses a deadly weapon in the assault. Similarly, use or possession of a deadly weapon can make charges for burglary, robbery, or kidnapping more serious offenses, or possession of a weapon can be used as evidence in proving other charges.

Sometimes, you can face increased charges for “using” a deadly weapon even if you did not actually have a weapon. In some cases, especially robbery, what really matters is whether the victim thinks you have a weapon. In cases of sexual assault or robbery committed with a deadly weapon, the charges and penalties are increased when the actor uses a weapon or something the victim would think is a weapon. Even doing something like putting your fingers in your pocket and holding them out like a gun could make someone think you have a weapon, as could using an airsoft gun or BB gun. In these cases, the increased threat to the victim is what the statute punishes by increasing the penalties. This increased threat is still present, even if the weapon is real or isn’t loaded.

Sometimes, the use or possession of a weapon is not a necessary element of the crime, but it helps prove the actor’s intent. This is common in cases involving burglary and drug possession with the intent to deliver (PWID). If you are caught skulking in or near a building, police might use your possession of a gun or another deadly weapon as proof that you intended to commit a crime, such as assault or robbery. If you have a gun alongside large quantities of drugs and cash, police and prosecutors might be able to use the gun as evidence that you were dealing drugs, not just carrying them for personal use.

Talk to a lawyer about your case to see if other charges are justified because you had a “deadly” weapon.

Call Our Atlantic City Weapons Crime Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

If you or a loved one was charged with a crime in South Jersey involving a deadly weapon, contact the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Our Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers represent people charged with serious crimes like assault and robbery, and we fight to get those charges dropped and reduced. For a free legal consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956.