Did you know that you could face assault charges in New Jersey if you get into a car accident and someone else gets hurt? Did you know that could even include injury to a passenger in your own vehicle? Our last entry here on our Morristown criminal defense law blog looked at a situation just like this. In that case, the driver is also accused by police of driving under the influence, but that’s not necessarily a precondition to the charge of assault by auto.
Let’s take a closer look at what state law says about assault by auto. There are varying degrees of this charge depending on the circumstances. The basic definition is, simply, physically injuring somebody else because you were driving recklessly. Driving recklessly in this context can include drinking and driving, as we’ve seen previously, but it can also include using a cell phone behind the wheel, to talk, text, check a GPS map or anything else.
If the injuries are not considered serious, defendants may only face the equivalent of a disorderly persons charge (see our Oct. 24 post for more on that subject). Serious injuries may elevate the charge. If the defendant was driving on or within 1,000 feet of school property or through a school crossing, and allegedly caused serious injuries, assault by auto may be charged as a second-degree crime — whether the defendant was aware of the proximity to school property or not. This is true even if no children were present or if school was not in session.
Defendants facing these kinds of allegations may have questions about how to prepare an effective criminal defense, given the highly circumstantial nature of the assault by auto charge. Remember, it’s up to the prosecution to prove that you were talking on the phone, that you were within 1,000 feet of a school zone (not 1,001 feet, for example) or whatever other evidence they allege. Reasonable doubt in any of these factors may get the charges reduced or thrown out completely.