Getting in a fight in public can lead to an assault charge under New Jersey law. Depending on the circumstances, it can result in a petty disorderly persons offense for simple assault. However, if you caused serious bodily harm during the fight, you could be facing an aggravated assault charge—and this can be up to a second-degree indictable offense. In any case, you need to defend yourself effectively, and you should discuss your case with a New Jersey assault lawyer as soon as possible.
What Specific Assault Charge are You Facing?
New Jersey’s assault statute establishes two separate crimes: simple assault and aggravated assault. To make an effective defense, you need to know which specific assault charge you are facing. Each crime has its own unique set of “elements” (the facts prosecutors must prove to secure a conviction), and if you aren’t defending against the correct charge, you may be ruining your chance of avoiding a conviction at trial.
Simple assault charges are possible in cases involving “bodily injury” (as opposed to “serious bodily injury”). They are also possible in cases involving “[a]ttempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.” In virtually all other scenarios, prosecutors can pursue charges for aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is a much more serious offense, and it can potentially carry penalties as high as five to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine.
What Defenses Do You Have Available?
Defending against assault charges after a fight in public can be challenging. These days, many street fights are caught on video. If prosecutors have cell phone footage of your fight, they may be able to use it against you. But video footage could potentially work in your favor as well. For example, if the footage shows that the other person provoked the fight, you could possibly have a claim for self-defense.
Other potential defenses include lack of evidence, lack of admissible evidence (for example, if the police conducted an illegal search or seizure), diminished capacity and non-voluntary intoxication. If the police failed to read your Miranda rights, this could potentially provide you with a defense as well. These are just examples—when your lawyer evaluates your case, he or she will thoroughly analyze the facts of your case to determine what defenses you have available.
This includes analyzing facts such as:
- Self-Defense – Who provoked the fight? Were you in fear for your personal safety (or someone else’s safety)? Did you have the option to retreat instead of fighting? Did you engage in the fight only to the extent necessary to try to protect yourself (or someone else)?
- Lack of Evidence – What evidence did the police collect at the scene of the fight? Were there any witnesses? Was the fight caught on cell phone or surveillance camera video? What other evidence is available that the police did not collect? Is this evidence sufficient to prove that you are guilty of simple assault or aggravated assault?
- Lack of Admissible Evidence – Did the police arrest you in violation of your constitutional rights? Did they conduct a search or seize evidence in violation of your rights? Are prosecutors withholding any exculpatory evidence that you are entitled to view? Are there any other grounds your lawyer can use to keep the government’s evidence out of court?
- Diminished Capacity – Do you have a medical condition that qualifies as a “mental disease or defect” under New Jersey law? Does your medical condition compromise your decision-making ability or your ability to form the required “intent” to commit a crime?
- Involuntary Intoxication – Were you intoxicated due to circumstances beyond your control? Did your involuntary intoxication prevent you from understanding what you were doing? Did it prevent you from understanding that what you were doing was wrong?
- Failure to Read Your Miranda Rights – Did the police read your Miranda rights during your arrest? Did they read your Miranda rights after your arrest? Did the police interrogate you in custody? Did you make a confession (or say anything else prosecutors can use against you) in response to this interrogation? Did you confess (or make any other statements) voluntarily?
Mutual Consent to Fight is Not a Complete Defense in New Jersey
Many people believe that mutual consent is a defense to an assault charge in the case of a street fight. But this is not the case in New Jersey. Mutual consent can reduce a simple assault charge from a disorderly persons offense to a petty disorderly offense in some cases; but otherwise, mutual consent is not a significant factor in an assault case under New Jersey law.
What Should You Do if You Have Been Arrested After a Fight in New Jersey?
Given the serious consequences associated with assault convictions in New Jersey, if you have been arrested after a fight, you need to protect yourself by all means available. It would be best if you also were careful to avoid mistakes that could jeopardize your defense. With these warnings in mind, you should:
1. Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
When you get arrested for assault in New Jersey or for any other crime or quasi-criminal offense, you have the right to remain silent. It is extremely important that you exercise this right. Prosecutors can use anything you say against you. Even if you do not provide an outright confession, your statements could still be enough to help prosecutors win a conviction at trial.
While you might be able to have your statements suppressed from trial if the police arrested you illegally or interrogated you in custody without reading your Miranda rights, it is far better to avoid saying anything that even has the potential to create problems for your defense. Since the laws governing fight cases are fairly complex, it is best not to say anything at all.
2. Think About What Evidence Might Be Available
Is it possible that the fight was filmed by a security camera? Did any of your friends record the fight on video? Can any of your friends or anyone else testify as to what happened and who instigated the fight?
As you prepare for your defense, you will want to think about any evidence that might be available. This includes evidence that is both helpful and harmful for your defense. Your lawyer will be able to use any helpful evidence to your advantage, while knowing what harmful evidence is out there will help your lawyer anticipate the prosecution’s arguments at trial.
3. Take Your Assault Case Very Seriously
If you are facing an aggravated assault charge following a fight, it is not an exaggeration to say that your future is on the line. The outcome of your criminal case could impact your life for years—if not decades—to come. As a result, you need to take your case very seriously, and you need to prepare yourself to do everything you possibly can to lessen the consequences of your arrest.
4. Learn About the Criminal Justice Process in New Jersey
To prepare yourself effectively, it will be important to understand what you can expect as your assault case moves forward. Our overview of what you need to know after an arrest in New Jersey is a good place to start.
5. Get Help from an Experienced Defense Lawyer
Finally, due to the risks you are facing and the complicated nature of assault cases arising out of public fights, you will need an experienced defense lawyer on your side. From assessing the admissibility of the prosecution’s evidence to building a comprehensive defense strategy, there are numerous ways an experienced defense lawyer can help you. No matter how long it has been since your arrest, you should arrange to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
What Should You Not Do if You Have Been Arrested After a Fight in New Jersey?
What should you not do if you have been arrested after a fight in New Jersey? To protect your legal rights and maximize your chances of asserting a successful defense, you need to avoid mistakes such as:
1. Talking to the Police
You should not talk to the police unless advised to do so by your lawyer. Protect yourself by exercising your right to remain silent.
2. Posting About the Fight on Social Media
Do not post anything about the fight on social media. If you do, the prosecutors handling your case will be able to use your posts against you.
3. Assuming Everything Will Work Out
Even though getting in a fight might not seem like a big deal, it can lead to a criminal conviction and significant penalties. As a result, you cannot afford to assume that everything will work out.
4. Ignoring the Risks of an Assault Conviction in New Jersey
You also cannot afford to ignore the risks of an assault conviction in New Jersey. If you don’t take your case seriously, you could end up facing steep fines, jail or prison time, and other consequences that impact your life for years.
5. Trying to Defend Yourself
Due to the risks involved, you should not try to defend yourself after a fight. To give yourself the best chance of a favorable outcome, you need an experienced defense lawyer on your side.
Talk to a New Jersey Assault Lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.
Are you facing an assault charge after a fight in public? If so, our New Jersey assault lawyer can help you fight to protect your finances, freedom, and reputation. To schedule a confidential consultation as soon as possible, call 877-435-6371 or contact us online now.
Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.