In New Jersey, when a driver is accused of causing injuries to another person in a DWI car accident, they generally are charged with assault by auto. This is a unique legal that you may not have heard of before. What exactly is an assault by auto?
The crime of assault by auto has three elements:
- The defendant was driving a vehicle,
- The defendant caused serious harm to another individual, and
- The defendant caused the harm by driving the vehicle recklessly.
While there are many ways a motorist can recklessly cause a car accident, one of the most common claims that police and prosecutors make is that the defendant was impaired by drugs or alcohol. Causing serious bodily injury to somebody else while driving under the influence of alcohol is a third-degree indictable offense, equivalent to what other state criminal codes call a felony.
A third-degree indictable offense like assault by auto carries serious potential punishments if you are convicted, including:
- Three to 5 years in state prison
- In most cases, a fine of up to $15,000
- A felony record
In some cases, the defendant could instead be sentenced to 364 days in county jail, followed by up to five years of probation. There is a general presumption against incarceration for first-time offenders, but not when the facts of the case are deemed “egregious.” That could be the case if the person injured in the crash has been permanently disabled.
Why you need a defense lawyer
If you have been charged with assault by auto, you are dealing with a very serious problem. However, you could have options for avoiding an unjust conviction. For example, the evidence that you were above the legal limit for alcohol could be ambiguous or the result of illegal procedures. But you cannot know your rights and what you can do to reduce the chances of a prison term until you talk to a skilled defense attorney.