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Can being in a fight you didn’t start lead to an assault charge?

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

In the state of New Jersey, the legal landscape surrounding assault charges may not always align with common perceptions.

One question that arises is whether the court can charge you with assault even if you did not throw the first punch.

The definition of assault

Statistics show that since 2014, there have been an average of more than 60,000 assaults annually in New Jersey. Assault in the Garden State encompasses not only physical actions but also the intentional creation of fear of imminent bodily harm. This means that if your words and gestures lead someone to believe they are about to be physically harmed, you could potentially face assault charges.

No physical contact required

Unlike some might assume, physical contact is not a prerequisite for assault charges. Simply engaging in threatening behavior, such as raising a fist or making verbal threats that reasonably make another person fear for their safety, could be enough to warrant an assault charge.

Self-defense considerations

New Jersey recognizes the right to self-defense, allowing individuals to protect themselves from imminent harm. However, the key lies in proportionality. If you use force that goes beyond what is reasonably necessary to protect yourself, you might find yourself facing assault charges even if you were not the initial aggressor.

Provocation as a factor

Provocation is another critical factor in assault cases. If your words or actions provoke someone to the point where they respond physically, the law may view this as a mitigating circumstance. However, this does not absolve you of responsibility if your actions played a significant role in inciting violence.

Assault degrees and penalties

New Jersey classifies assault charges into degrees, with varying levels of severity and corresponding penalties. Simple assault, categorized as a disorderly person’s offense, can lead to up to six months in jail and fines. Aggravated assault, a more serious charge, can result in more severe consequences, including imprisonment for several years.

Physical contact is not the sole factor in determining assault charges in New Jersey. Being aware of the complexities of assault laws helps to avoid unintended legal repercussions.