Arrested for a Road Rage Incident in New Jersey
Facing Criminal Charges After a Road Rage Incident in New Jersey?
Road rage, especially in New Jersey, is a heated emotion every resident has experienced on more occasions than they would like to admit. Our State is very crowded, congested with traffic, and overflowing with commuters who are all in a rush to reach their destination in record time. And unfortunately, the drivers on the road are more inclined to disregard the safety of others and on top of that, have no interest in extending any form of courtesy or a minimum level of respect towards their fellow drivers. In response to such contempt, most of us explode with anger and lay on our horn, try to cut off the individual, and maybe exchange some coarse words. However, others, uncontrollably boil over with rage and regrettably, cross the line and end up being charged with criminal offenses.
Road rage incidents generally result in an array of criminal charges being filed against the driver and sometimes even the passenger. The New Jersey Criminal Code does not have a criminal offense titled “road rage.” Rather, the accused is typically charged with assault, terroristic threats, or a weapons related offense. With that said, let’s begin by discussing our Assault Statute.
The New Jersey Assault statute is very lengthy and contains a large number of sections and subsections addressing many forms of violent and threatening conduct. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1. The first part of the law, section a, discusses disorderly persons offenses, otherwise known as misdemeanors. Moreover, offenses under section a are referred to as simple assault offenses. A person will be found guilty of simple assault if he or she causes, or attempts to cause, bodily injury to another person. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a. The law also provides that an individual will be found criminal responsible if they negligently cause bodily injury by using a deadly weapon. Id
The following section of the law, section b, is the Aggravated Assault statute, which is an indictable or felony offense. In short, a person is guilty of aggravated assault if they cause, or attempts to cause, serious bodily injury to another. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b). The key difference between a disorderly person charge and an indictable charge is the nature of injury. A simple bruising or bloody lip will generally just be considered bodily injury and thus, only result in a simple assault charge. However, if the victim suffers a broken bone or permanent disfigurement, such an injury will be considered serious and as a result, the accused will be facing aggravated assault charges. In addition, similar to simple assault, the aggravated assault statute also has a weapon’s provision that states that any individual who points a firearm at another or recklessly causes bodily injury by utilizing a deadly weapon is criminally liable for assault. Id.
Assault by Auto
In the following section, section c, the Assault statute addresses motor vehicle matters. The statute reads, a person is guilty of assault by auto when the person drives a vehicle recklessly and causes either serious bodily injury or bodily injury to another. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c). Furthermore, under subsection (4), our Legislatures enacted a law aimed at road rage type of incidents. The law provides that it shall be unlawful for any person to drive a vehicle in an aggressive manner directed at another vehicle resulting in bodily injury. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c)(4). Additionally, the statute defines aggressive driving to include, unexpectedly altering the speed of the vehicle, making improper or erratic traffic lane changes, disregarding traffic control devices, failing to yield the right of way, or following another vehicle too closely. Id. In conjunction, a companion criminal statute was also passed by our lawmakers in an effort to curb road rage offenses. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.1, if a motor vehicle operator is involved in an accident resulting in serious bodily injury and knowingly leaves the scene, he or she shall be guilty of a felony offense.
Another offense that is typically filed in relation to a road rage event is terroristic threats. Many hear the work terroristic and think terrorism. On the contrary, the law is directed at threatening language and efforts to place others in a state of terror and fear. The terroristic threats statute can be found under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3 and reads as follows, a person is guilty if he or she threatens to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another or threatens to kill another with the purpose to put him or her in imminent fear of death.
It’s certainly common for drivers, in a fit of rage, to threaten others. Moreover, those threats sometimes turn into violent and even lift-threatening statements. Most individuals do not mean what they are saying and regret their actions after the fact. But unfortunately, it’s too late by then and as a result, they are charged with making terroristic threats.
Gun Charges during a Road Rage Incident
What is Considered a Firearm?
The last set of charges that many road rage defendants face is connected to firearms. Despite the Garden State’s very strict and harsh gun laws, many drivers carry weapons on them when they enter a car. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to very serious criminal charges. Before we begin discussing the statutes, we need to first understand what exactly is considered a firearm in New Jersey. Turning to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1, a firearm is defined as any device or instrument that has the capacity to fire or eject any solid projectable ball, slug, pellet, missile or bullet by means of a cartridge, shell, or explosive action. The statutory definition continues to state that a firearm shall also include any weapon which is in the nature of an air gun, spring gun or pistol in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, or compressed air, and the force is sufficient to injure a person. Accordingly, the criminal code’s definition of what constitutes a firearm is very broad and includes fake guns such as BB-guns, paintball guns, and air-soft weapons. Moreover, our courts have repeatedly ruled that BB guns fit into the definition of a firearm. State v. Mieles, 199 N.J. Super. 29 (App. Div. 1985) & State v. Rackis, 333 N.J. Super. 332 (App. Div. 2000). Therefore, if a person is found to be in possession of an imitation gun, he or she is subject to the same laws that govern real firearms.
Unlawful Possession of a Weapon
The first law we will be discussing is the Unlawful Possession of a Weapon statute, which is codified under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5. According to that law, any person who knowingly has in their possession any firearm, without a carry permit, is guilty of an indictable offense. Keep in mind, the driver or passenger does not have to fire the gun or use it in any capacity. The simple act of possessing the gun, in the vehicle, without the appropriate permit, is a felony offense. The only exception to this law is if the motorist placed the firearm in a locked compartment, unloaded, in the trunk of the vehicle, and drove directly to their home, business, target range, or hunting site. If the driver takes an unnecessary detour or makes any unneeded stop, they fall outside the safe haven of the statute. For example, if the driver, in a fit of rage, follows another driver and makes several turns that clearly are not en route to his or her residence, he or she will very likely be facing possessory charges.
Generally speaking, this particular charge tends to entangle out-of-state residents visiting or traveling through New Jersey. Most States have liberal guns laws and allow their citizens to carry guns inside their vehicle. In a similar vein, the out-of-state resident may own a carry permit from their home state and thus, they believe they can travel with their gun in the Garden State. Unfortunately, many learn the hard way that our State does not honor other State’s permits and licenses. Moreover, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense. Consequently, they are charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. And again, as outlined above, this law applies equally to BB-guns, paintball guns, and air-soft weapons. Thus, if you are behind the wheel and brandish your BB-gun to intimidate a driver who cut you off, you will probably be facing an unlawful possession charge, even though the gun is just a toy.
Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose
Which leads us to the next related statute, Possession a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose. Under this statute, which can be found under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4, a person will be found guilty if he or she possesses any firearm or weapon with a purpose to use it unlawfully against another person or property. Meaning, if an individual utilizes the firearm for an illegal purpose, such as firing or displaying the gun, he or she can be facing criminal charges. Please note, the unlawful purpose offense is very similar to parts of the aggravated assault statute. However, the exact language in both statutes have some differences which separate the charges. In short, the assault statute concerns the surrounding circumstances when the gun is pointed at an individual and the unlawful purpose statute focuses more on the actor’s underlying intent when he or she is in possession of the weapon.
What are the potential penalties I’m facing in court?
With all that in mind, let’s next turn to the potential penalties and sanctions a defendant will be facing. Our sentencing code separates criminal offenses into three classes based upon their severity: (1) petty disorderly offenses, (2) disorderly persons offenses, and (3) indictable offenses. Moreover, the indictable charges are divided further into four different degrees: first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree. The least serious charge is a petty disorderly offense, which exposes a person to no more than 30-days in jail. A step up from there is a disorderly persons charge, which carries with it a jail term up to six months. With respect to the indictable offenses, a fourth-degree charge exposes a person to a year and a half prison sentence. A third-degree charge may result in a prison term between three to five years. A second-degree conviction subjects the defendant to a prison term between five to ten years. And lastly, a first-degree charge exposes a person to ten to twenty years in state prison.
As mentioned earlier, the Assault statute has many different sections and subsections and accordingly, each part of the statute has its own corresponding penalty. Notwithstanding, most aggravated assault charges in the context of road rage incidents fall into the third and fourth-degree ranges. As such, the defendant, if convicted, may be sentenced up to five years in prison. Likewise, a terroristic threat charge may be filed under different degrees depending on the severity. However, the majority are categorized as third-degree offenses and consequently, the defendant is facing three to five years in prison.
Lastly, the firearm related offenses are unquestionably the most serious. Unlawful possession of a gun or possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose are both second-degree charges. In turn, the individual may be sent to jail for 10-years. Additionally, what makes firearm charges in New Jersey so severe is a sentencing provision called the Graves Act. See N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6. In the 90s, gun violence was on the rise and in response, our Congress passed the Graves Act which mandated a minimum jail term for any person convicted of a firearm related charge. As such, even if a person has never been arrested before and did not even utilize the gun in relation to the charges, the individual must be sent to jail. Accordingly, for those reasons, the firearm offenses are undeniably the most serious charges.
Can I get a Graves Act waiver on gun charges?
However, there are a few ways a person can avoid serving time in prison and even better, obtain a dismissal of the charges. However, dismissals do not come easy and for most defendants facing serious felony charges, they will have to earn it.
Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI)
The best way to obtain a dismissal is through New Jersey’s Pre-Trial Intervention Program, which is commonly referred to as PTI. The program’s goal is to assist first-time offenders and requires the individual to serve probation. Nevertheless, if the person successfully completes the probationary term, the case will be dismissed.
To be enrolled into the program, the defendant must submit an application and pay the $75.00 application fee. From there, they will be interviewed by the Criminal Division’s Office. In addition, the Prosecutor’s Office will also examine the applicant’s background to determine if placing the individual into the program is justified. Overall, the Criminal Division and Prosecutor’s Office will be weighing whether the effort and cost of prosecuting the defendant outweighs the virtues of the person’s character and background.
Please note, for firearm charges, PTI is typically not an option. However, our office has had many cases where we were able to obtain atypical results and place our client into PTI. How did we accomplish this? As articulated above, a person facing a gun charge is subject to the Graves Act. However, a defendant may qualify for a Graves Act Waiver, which can remove the mandatory jail sentence and allow a person to enter the PTI program. Keep in mind, waivers are not regularly granted. In fact, a person seeking a waiver must present a packet of compelling reasons which justifies why the sentencing mandates of the Graves Act should be disregarded.
For instance, an effective packet should outline a person’s background and highlight the following: lack of criminal history; lack of arrests, no prior juvenile adjudications, no active or past restraining orders, no history of assaultive or anti-social behavior, and no issues surrounding substance abuse. In addition, it should also be noted that the defendant has a family, has children, is gainfully employed, and members of the community will vouch for their good moral character. Plus, it’s very important to explain why the individual was carrying a gun. A convincing packet that will earn a waiver must demonstrate the person possessed the weapon, not for any criminal purpose, but, for some harmless purpose.
Accordingly, road rage events are not unusual in New Jersey and everybody experiences them to a certain extent. However, for some, their rage goes too far and in turn, they end up being charged with very serious offenses. Nevertheless, our office can assist and as such, we ask that you contact us at your earliest convenience to discuss your case.