Under New Jersey auto accident law, a Hampton man who hit four bicyclists with his car earlier this year will serve 150 days in a county jail. Robert Whitesell, 26, was driving with a suspended license when he ran into a pedestrian sidewalk sign and four cyclists riding on Route 519 in April. He pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense, a downgrade from the original charge of assault by automobile. Whitesell’s New Jersey criminal attorneys argued that an assault-by-auto charge is appropriate only in cases where the victims suffered serious bodily harm that includes the risk of death, and that Whitesell did not inflict fatal or near-fatal bodily harm.
Assault by auto is a crime in New Jersey that is similar to other states’ felony charges, and is punishable by a maximum of 18 months in prison. Reckless behavior such as speeding or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to an assault by auto charge in the event of an accident or collision. Drunk driving or refusal to submit to chemical testing is automatically considered reckless driving, but Whitesell had no alcohol in his system at the time of the crash, his New Jersey criminal attorneys say.
A drunk driver can be charged with a third degree crime in an accident, while drivers who inflict severe bodily harm in an accident or collision are charged with a fourth degree crime, punishable by 18 months in jail, even though it is not a crime under the law. The severity of Whitesell’s disorderly persons charge was determined based on the injuries he inflicted on the bikers. One woman suffered a broken leg and head injuries, and all were taken to the hospital, but none of the injuries were life-threatening.
Because he was charged with a lesser offense under state law, Whitesell did not have the right to a trial by grand jury. Only those who have been accused of a crime, such as an assault by auto charge, have the right to a grand jury trial. Whitesell’s disorderly persons charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, and a possible monetary fine of $1,000, as well as other fees and fines. His 150-day imprisonment is part of a plea bargain in which Whitesell admitted to driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of the accident, and failing to maintain his lane while driving.
The New Jersey criminal attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman offer legal advice and consultation to individuals across New Jersey who are charged with a crime, including assault by auto or a disorderly persons offense involving a vehicular collision.