A police officer may make an arrest for assault, but New Jersey prosecutors make the determination regarding what kind of assault charge an individual faces. The circumstances surrounding the incident often factor into what type of assault someone faces, and the charge could fall into the category of misdemeanor or felony.
A felony assault often involves some aggravating factor such as the severity of injuries, whether it involved a weapon, the type of victim or the accused individual's intention. That may sound simple, but in reality, it can present challenges to a criminal defense. If you face charges for aggravated assault, prosecutors will need to prove that one of those factors existed to substantiate the more serious charge, especially since the corresponding penalties are harsher.
The severity of the injuries
What constitutes a severe injury may vary among cases, but in general, any injury that threatens the life of the alleged victim falls into this category. If the victim ended up maimed or disfigured because of an assault, your opponent could use that to substantiate this aggravating factor. Even if the alleged victim only suffered minor injuries, the method used to cause the injuries could make the assault an aggravated one depending on the circumstances.
The use of a deadly weapon
This brings up another aggravating factor -- the use of a deadly weapon. The alleged victim may not have experienced a heightened state of fear if you shook your fist, but if you brought out a gun or knife, that could elevate the charge to aggravated assault. This is because the law does not necessarily require physical injury for an assault charge. Brandishing a deadly weapon in a manner that incites fear in the alleged victim makes the difference.
The type of victim
In some assaults, the type of victim raises the charge to aggravated assault. Most laws consider assaults on fire fighters, police officers and other classes of people during the performance of their duties as aggravated assaults. In addition, authorities could elevate the charge if the assault occurred because of one of the alleged victim's characteristics, including the following:
- Sexual orientation
- National origin
If this list reminds you of groups protected under state and federal laws, you would be right.
The alleged perpetrator's intentions
If the actions of the person accused of assault were so reckless that they project an indifference to human life, this may result in an aggravated assault charge. If the alleged perpetrator intended to cause severe harm, that could elevate the charge as well.
Where to find support
If prosecutors charge you with aggravated assault, you could face significant penalties upon conviction. Avoiding this eventuality may require understanding your rights and legal options as you work to develop your defense. Fortunately, you do not have to undertake these tasks alone since experienced help is available.