In New Jersey, simple assault is the most basic assault charge and is considered a disorderly persons offense. An individual charged with a disorderly persons, or misdemeanor, offense may face up to 6 months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. A simple assault charge may stem from the following actions: (1) Attempted to cause or purposely, knowingly, or recklessly caused, injury to another, (2) Negligently caused injury to another with a deadly weapon, or (3) Attempted to place someone in fear of imminent injury by menacing them. A simple assault that arises from a mutual fight will not be punished as harshly. In that case, an individual would be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense and face up to 30 days in jail. A deadly weapon does not only refer to traditional weapons, like firearms, but can include any object that may cause death or serious bodily injury.
Aggravated assault, on the other hand, is punished in various ways depending on the severity of the assault. In New Jersey, an aggravated assault can be charged as a second, third, or fourth degree offense. An individual may be charged with aggravated assault if it is believed he or she did any of the following:
- Recklessly caused bodily injury to someone with a deadly weapon,
- Attempted to cause or purposefully or knowingly cause bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon,
- Attempted to cause serious bodily injury to someone or cause such an injury purposely, knowingly, or under a negligent or reckless situation, or
- Recklessly pointed a firearm at another person
An individual charged with aggravated assault can face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $150,000. In New Jersey, bodily harm is defined as physical pain, illness or impairment of a physical condition. Thus, a victim experiencing mental harm will not be considered a victim of simple or aggravated assault. The New Jersey statute distinguishes between purposely, knowingly, recklessly and negligently causing bodily harm to another person. These terms signify the mental state of the person committing the assault or battery. An assault is purposeful if the person intended the injury to occur. A person causes an injury knowingly when that person is aware his or her actions will almost certainly cause bodily injury. A reckless injury occurs when a person “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.” In other words, the person is aware his or her actions will cause injury and simply does not care. A negligent injury occurs when a person should realize, but ultimately fails to realize, that his or her actions will result in an injury.
An individual may be charged with assault, without being charged with a battery. On the other hand, a criminal battery charge will likely be classified as an assault charge because of the physical contact involved. A criminal battery requires physical contact with a person, or contact with an extension of the person. An extension of the person can be something the individual is holding, or a piece of his or her clothing. The main distinction between assault and battery is the physical contact element. An individual may be guilty of assault for attempting to place someone in fear of injury, without actually touching them. This would not, however, constitute a criminal battery.