In the State of New Jersey, being accused of domestic violence is a serious allegation indeed, especially if you are charged with a crime. Domestic assault is the most common type of domestic violence charge and one that comes with potentially significant penalties. Just being accused of domestic violence can result in a restraining order against you, which can force you to leave your home and even restrict your contact with your children. If you're actually convicted of domestic assault, you could face jail time, probation, fines, and restrictions on your ability to purchase/own firearms.
Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in New Jersey
If you've recently been accused of domestic violence, you may well have some apprehension about your future--and rightly so. Although you're technically "innocent until proven guilty," accusations of domestic violence can still be highly disruptive to your life in many ways, even before you've been charged with a crime and whether or not you are convicted. You may have many questions flooding your mind: Will I go to jail? What about my job? My home? Will I lose custody or visitation rights?
Hiring an experienced New Jersey domestic violence defense attorney is your best bet for minimizing the damage caused by allegations of domestic assault or other domestic violence crimes. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of proven experience helping defendants navigate the complexities of domestic crime charges such as domestic assault. Call 888-535-3686 to see how the Lento Law Firm can help.
Overview of Domestic Violence Laws in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991 defines acts of domestic violence as occurring between the perpetrator and anyone with whom he/she has a current/former domestic relationship. This includes spouses (married, separated, or divorced), current or former dating relationships, cohabitants in the same home (current or former), and adults who have had a child together or are expecting one. Gender is not a factor in any of these relationships; both heterosexual and same-sex relationships have the same protections.
The PDVA lists 19 specific criminal offenses that are considered acts of domestic violence, including murder, assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual assault, terroristic threats, and numerous others. As long as the alleged crime is committed within one of the relationships described above, it's considered domestic violence in New Jersey.
What is Domestic Assault in New Jersey?
Many states categorize assault and battery as two different crimes—for example, "assault" is an attempt to use force against another person to cause injury, and "battery" is when the attacker actually makes physical contact. Under New Jersey law, however, both actions of assault and battery effectively fall under the heading of "assault," which is by far the most common type of domestic violence crime.
NJ Rev Stat § 2C:12-1 (2022) defines two different levels of assault, which are also applicable when referring to domestic assault:
Simple assault is doing any of the following:
- Knowingly, recklessly, or purposely causing or attempting to cause bodily injury;
- Causing injury with a deadly weapon through negligence (as opposed to willfully); or
- Physically acting in a menacing way to make the other person fear imminent harm.
In most cases, simple assault is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey (comparable to a misdemeanor in other states). Note that you don't have to actually make physical contact with the person to be charged with simple assault. You only have to have attempted to do so or made the victim believe you were going to do so.
Aggravated assault is similar to simple assault in some ways, but it generally occurs when someone causes or attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another person or while showing an "extreme indifference to the value of human life." This includes recklessly using a deadly weapon with the intent to kill or maim someone (as opposed to negligently); it also includes pointing a deadly weapon at the other person while conveying an intent to use it. Again, some forms of aggravated assault do not involve actual physical contact. In most cases, aggravated assault is a fourth-degree or third-degree indictable offense in New Jersey (comparable to a low-level to moderate felony in other states).
Penalties for Domestic Violence Assault in New Jersey
The penalties that you face if convicted of domestic assault in New Jersey will depend on the specific crime you're charged with and the severity of any injuries caused. The basic guidelines are as follows:
- Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense, which carries potential penalties of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- Fourth-degree aggravated assault carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison.
- Third-degree aggravated assault carries a penalty of 3-5 years in prison.
Aggravating Factors in Domestic Violence Cases
When assault is charged as a domestic violence crime under the PVDA, the charges may be upgraded by one degree in certain situations. For example, simple assault is a misdemeanor-level offense, but if you already have a domestic violence conviction, it may be upgraded to a fourth-degree offense. Likewise, a second-offense aggravated assault may be upgraded from a fourth-degree to a third-degree charge—likewise, if the injuries to your partner are particularly serious.
Possible Defenses to Domestic Assault Charges
New Jersey takes domestic violence charges seriously, and it can be difficult to present a solid defense against the charges, especially if there is physical evidence (i.e., injuries) and/or eyewitnesses to the alleged incident. However, a good New Jersey domestic violence defense attorney can often employ certain strategies to defend against the charges. Some of the most common include:
- Self-defense: You were defending yourself or someone else from imminent harm.
- Falsely accused: Spouses and partners often raise false accusations of domestic violence as a way of invoking spite or retribution, sometimes using emergency restraining orders (which can be issued ex parte) to force you from your home or temporarily revoke your custody rights. Your attorney may be able to make this argument by citing a lack of physical evidence and/or providing witnesses to refute the alleged victim's claims.
- "De minimis" infraction: This argument basically says the alleged offense was too trivial to be taken seriously as a crime. For example, if your assault charges were based on allegations of threatening behavior where you made no physical contact with the victim, you may be able to claim a de minimis infraction as a defense.
Being convicted of domestic violence assault can create huge disruptions in your life--possibly affecting your job, where you live, your custody/visitation rights, and even your freedom—not to mention a criminal record that could follow you for the rest of your life. If you're facing domestic violence charges in New Jersey, act now to minimize these risks. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case.