Domestic Violence Simple Assault Charges
The Unique Elements of Assault Accusations in NJ Domestic Violence Cases
New Jersey has extremely strict laws concerning domestic violence, with a defendant potentially facing both criminal charges and a permanent restraining order. Additionally, police tend to err on the side of caution in domestic violence cases in order to ensure that the alleged victim remains safe. As a result, anyone who is accused of domestic violence may be placed under arrest and/or served with a temporary restraining order on the basis of the accusation. This is particularly true in domestic violence cases involving assault, where essentially any sign of bodily injury suffered by the victim will lead to an automatic arrest of the suspect. Moreover, these types of cases are quite common because the simple truth is that couples, whether they are married or merely dating, can get into arguments – especially when the partners live together. One thing can lead to another, and a verbal altercation might quickly escalate and turn physical. If you are accused of striking your partner, and there is a visible sign of physical injury, you will almost certainly be arrested. And that could just be the beginning of your troubles: a restraining order and criminal charges may soon follow. What exactly happens if you are accused of simple assault in a domestic violence case in NJ, and what are the possible consequences of a conviction? Let’s delve into the specific details.
Arrest and Detention for Simple Assault in Middlesex County Domestic Violence Case
When a person is arrested for simple assault in New Jersey, they are usually not subject to mandatory arrest and detention before trial. However, simple assault in the context of a domestic violence incident is treated very differently by the judicial system. That’s because the NJ Criminal Justice Reform Act basically eliminated money bail: determinations about whether a defendant should be held in a detention facility are now made primarily on the basis of whether the defendant’s release would pose a danger to others in the community or their likelihood to not show up to court, among other factors. The end result of these new standards is that most defendants charged with low-level offenses are not subject to pretrial detention; however, the same is not true for defendants charged with domestic violence assault.
As already discussed above, a person accused of physically injuring or attempting to injure another in a domestic violence act is subject to automatic arrest and mandatory holding in jail for at least 24 hours. Think of this as a period meant to ensure that the alleged victim is not subject to violence in the hours immediately following the original incident. The real question is: how long will the suspect be detained? After a report of domestic violence, the process that follows typically involves the police investigating the incident to determine whether the suspect should be arrested. If arrested and charged with simple assault or aggravated assault, the person will be held in detention while awaiting a bail hearing. They may even be held until trial.
A bail hearing will be scheduled, and if the judge decides that the suspect does not pose a threat to the victim, then the person may be released until their next court date. However, if the judge decides that it is necessary, then the defendant may be imprisoned for the duration of their case. Needless to say, it is vital that anyone accused of domestic violence assault have a knowledgeable attorney representing them at their bail hearing.
Served with a Restraining Order for Domestic Violence Assault in Middlesex County, NJ
Domestic violence accusations for simple assault frequently result in a temporary restraining order (TRO) being issued against the defendant. This TRO will be in place until another hearing can be held to determine whether a final restraining order (FRO) should be issued. The standard of proof for a TRO is very low. Basically, if the alleged victim has accused you of domestic violence and chooses to file a restraining order, there will be a TRO put in place. The TRO will prevent you from making any contact or communicating in any way with the alleged victim until a determination is made about a permanent restraining order.
Within 10 days of the TRO being issued, an FRO hearing will be scheduled. This hearing will take place in the Family Division of the Superior Court located in the county where the incident occurred. The Family Division is distinct from the Criminal Division because restraining orders are technically considered civil matters, not criminal matters. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you could still face criminal charges for assault in connection with the domestic violence incident.
FRO Hearing based on Simple Assault Allegations in New Brunswick
At the FRO hearing, the judge will speak to the parties, listen to testimony from witnesses, and examine evidence (e.g., emails, texts, social media posts, etc.). Ultimately, the judge will make a ruling based largely on three (3) factors:
- Whether there was a predicate act of domestic violence.
- Whether there is a prior history of domestic violence between the parties.
- Whether the complaining party would have a reasonable fear for their safety if a restraining order was not issued.
If a final restraining order is put in place, you will be barred from contacting the victim. This could make things incredibly difficult for you, particularly if you and the victim live at the same residence, as you will not be allowed to return to your home for any reason. The exception to this is to collect your belongings, which must be done with a police escort. There are other potential consequences of an FRO, such as no unsupervised visits with any children you share with the victim, no right to legally possess firearms, and a requirement to undergo counseling or attend anger management classes, at the judge’s discretion. Additionally, although there are no criminal penalties that accompany a restraining order, you could be subject to significant prison time if you ever violate the terms of the permanent restraining order. That’s because violation of a restraining order may be classified as a fourth degree felony that carries a sentence of 18 months in prison.
Accused of Domestic Violence and Facing Simple Assault Charges in New Jersey
In order to be charged with domestic violence, there must be probable cause to believe that a predicate offense occurred. These are particular crimes that tend to be associated with domestic violence disputes, and the underlying criminal offense can give rise to a domestic violence charge when the suspect and the victim are in a relationship. There are 19 predicate acts for domestic violence listed in the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, including Simple Assault. Since simple assault is one of the predicate offenses for a domestic violence charge, many domestic violence arrests also result in simple assault charges being filed against the suspect. In fact, simple assault is one of the most frequently charged offenses in New Jersey because the legal definition of simple assault, set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a), is quite broad. The statute stipulates that a person may be charged with simple assault in a host of circumstances, such as:
- The person purposely, knowingly, or recklessly caused bodily injury to the victim.
- The person negligently caused bodily injury to the victim while using a deadly weapon such as a gun, knife, or other object.
- The person attempted by physical menace to put the victim in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
As this list should make clear, not only can you be charged with simple assault for actually injuring another person, but you can also be charged with simple assault merely for threatening to injure another person. In the context of a domestic violence situation, this means that a few threatening words and presumably dangerous actions to your partner could result in you facing both criminal charges and a restraining order.
Charged with Domestic Violence Simple Assault, What am I Facing?
Since simple assault is usually classified as a disorderly persons offense, your criminal case would be handled in the Municipal Court located in the town or city where the domestic violence incident allegedly transpired. For example, if you were accused of hitting or threatening your girlfriend at a bar in New Brunswick, your charges would be dealt with in the New Brunswick Municipal Court. Charges filed at the Municipal Court level do not require the local prosecutor to secure a grand jury indictment, so your case would likely be scheduled for a bench trial in front of the municipal court judge if not resolved sooner. If you are ultimately convicted or if you plead guilty to the simple assault charges, the possible penalties may include up to 6 months in the county jail and fines up to $1,000.
To make matters worse, if your assault resulted in serious bodily injury to the victim (i.e., put the victim at risk of death or caused permanent disfigurement), the simple assault charges may be elevated to aggravated assault charges. Aggravated assault is classified as a felony, with a conviction possibly resulting in the defendant being sentenced to years behind bars in state prison.
Looking for a Domestic Violence Simple Assault Attorney, Contact our Edison NJ Office
Simple assault charges and restraining orders in a domestic violence case mean you need to get help from a criminal defense lawyer who is capable of handling both the criminal case and the restraining order trial. This is especially important in these situations because the outcome of your restraining order hearing could potentially impact your criminal case and it’s also possible that you could lose the restraining order hearing and still win the criminal case. There are many subtle differences in how criminal trials and restraining order hearings are adjudicated in the NJ legal system. The facts and circumstances of your domestic violence simple assault case will matter a great deal, so having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side could make all the difference in keeping you out of jail.
If you have been accused of domestic violence in the form of simple assault or another offense such as terroristic threats, harassment, stalking, criminal trespass, burglary, weapons possession for unlawful purposes, or criminal restraint, contact our criminal law office in Edison, NJ to speak to a domestic violence defense lawyer serving clients throughout Middlesex County. We offer free consultations for anyone with questions about domestic violence cases and defense. Call (732) 659-9600.