N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A Simple Assault – Bar Fights in New Jersey

Assault charges are a serious matter that often are the result of the most trivial encounters. A friendly debate at a local bar between a New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils fan gone awry or a shouting match at a wedding afterparty that went too far. You may have been the victim, the target of an obnoxious individual, and had no choice but to use force to defend yourself. All of these scenarios can lead to assault charges under the New Jersey Criminal Code.

If charged with N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A Simple Assault, the penalties under the New Jersey Criminal Code can be severe. Along with fines of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to 6 months, the most serious consequence under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A is a guilty plea that will result in a criminal record. Having a Simple Assault charge on your criminal record has a very negative effect on future employment and educational opportunities and will affect you for the rest of your life.

The statute which defines Simple Assault provides that: A person commits a Simple Assault if he attempts to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another. Bodily injury is defined as physical pain, illness or any impairment of the physical condition.

 In order to get convicted of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A Simple Assault, the State must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:  

1. That the defendant did cause bodily injury to the victim; and

2. That the defendant acted purposely or knowingly or recklessly in causing bodily injury to the victim.\

Simple Assault cases are typically disorderly person’s offense which can result in up to 6 months in jail. However, if both parties enter the fight willingly then the offense can be treated as a petty disorderly person’s offense. Petty disorderly person’s offense can result in maximum of 30 days in jail and up to $500 in fines.

Simple assault differs from aggravated assault which has much more serious consequences if found guilty. The statutory provisions (listed below) that you violate and the severity of your actions determine which degree of crime you are charged with. Aggravated assault in New Jersey is either a fourth, third, or second degree crime:

·         Fourth degree: up to 18 months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines

·         Third degree: 3-5 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines

·         Second degree: 5-10 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines

Because aggravated assault carries much more serious consequences, the ways you can be found guilty are more detailed than simple assault. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b), there are eleven ways you can be found guilty of aggravated assault:

  1. If you cause or attempt to cause serious bodily injury to another individual purposely, knowingly, or under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life
  2. If you cause or attempt to cause—either purposely or knowingly—bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon
  3. If you recklessly cause bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon
  4. If you knowingly (and under circumstances that manifest an extreme indifference to the value of human life) point a firearm at or in the direction of another person, whether you know it is loaded or unloaded
  5. If you commit simple assault against any of the following people during the scope of their employment:
    • Law Enforcement Officer, Fireman, EMT/EMS Responder, School Board Member, Teacher, School Administrator, School Bus Driver (or Any Other Public or Private School Employee), DYFS Employee, Member of the Judiciary (i.e. Judges and Justices), Bus Driver, Train Conductor (or Other Employee of a Rail Passenger Service), Department of Corrections Employee or Other Jail Employee, Utility or Cable Company Employee, Health Care Worker, or a Direct Care Worker at a Psychiatric Hospital or Center
  6. If you cause bodily injury to another person while fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer or while committing a theft crime
  7. If you cause or attempt to cause significant bodily injury to another individual or knowingly (or under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life) or recklessly cause such significant bodily injury
  8. If you cause bodily injury by knowingly or purposely starting a fire or an explosion that results in bodily injury to emergency services personnel
  9. If you knowingly—and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life—point or display a firearm at or in the direction of a law enforcement officer
  10. If you knowingly point, display, or use an imitation firearm at or in the direction of a law enforcement officer with the purpose to intimidate, threaten, put the officer in fear of bodily injury, or for any unlawful purpose
  11. If you use or activate a laser sighting system or device (or a system or device that would cause a reasonable person to believe that it is a laser sighting system or device) against a law enforcement officer

Because the simple assault statutes are more vague, there is more room to work with in order to get your case dismissed. In some Simple Assault cases, public opinion and the surrounding circumstances of a situation can play an integral part in determining the defendant’s intent. For example, in Harris v. Cabana, there was a heated confrontation between two politicians at a campaign event hosted in the Marriott Hotel reception room. In the middle of the dancefloor, in view of many attendees, Mr. Cabana confronted Ms. Harris about a campaign flier she created that featured Mr. Cabana. While waving the flier in her face, Mr. Cabana’s knuckle of his right index finger struck Ms. Harris’s chin and caused her to stagger backwards and experience physical pain. Even though Ms. Cabana did experience some physical pain, the public opinion that Mr. Cabana did not intent to strike Ms. Harris, and that he mistakenly struck her while making hand gestures, was determined to be the better judge of content. Mr. Cabana’s conduct was deemed inappropriate and offensive, but less than assaultive and the complaint was dismissed.

Simple Assault cases frequently are interrelated with the consumption of alcohol. So, what happens if you get very drunk one night and get into a fight outside of a bar and consequently get charged with Simple Assault? Taking anger management classes, signing up for alcohol or substance abuse programs, and community service can allow your case to be put aside and not prosecuted until you have completed the class/program, at which point the case will be dismissed.

You most likely will have a story attached to your assault charge. Maybe you were defending yourself and did not initiate contact. Even if you did initiate contact, you may have been forced into defending yourself when the other party escalated the altercation, forcing you into a situation where you had to defend yourself. You could have been attempting to retreat when you used force to prevent bodily injury. These could all be grounds for a potential dismissal of your simple assault charges under the New Jersey Criminal Code.

Other defenses for a simple assault charge, depending on your case, can include but are not limited to: self-defense, consent, justification, and duress. Self-defense, in particular, is an affirmative defense, which means that you must notify the State prior to trial if you plan to utilize this defense.

There are a lot of grey areas when dealing with N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A Simple Assault, along with a lot of miniscule details that can completely alter the verdict of a case. This is why it is crucial to get consultation from an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Asserting your defenses and countering the Prosecutors attempt to portray you as the aggressor as opposed to the victim, along with obtaining all the discovery associated with your case are some of things an experienced criminal defense attorney can do to protect you in court and shield you from receiving a conviction and criminal record.