Aggravated Sexual Assault Reversed Conviction

by | Mar 4, 2015 | Blog, Criminal Law, Jail Time and Probation, News

In State v. Luis Santiago, decided on January 28, 2015, the Appellate Division reversed an aggravated sexual assault conviction based on subsection N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), because there was no evidence presented that the assault occurred during an assault “on another”. Although the Santiago opinion was unpublished, meaning that it is not binding on lower courts, but only persuasive, the decision was based on the published and binding 2013 opinion of State v. Rangel. There, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed that a third person must be involved for a conviction under this subsection.

In State v. Rangel, 213, N.J. 500 (2013), the defendant was convicted of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3), and second-degree attempted aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1(a)(3) and 2C:14-2(a)(3), among other related offenses. Rangel attacked and assaulted a single victim.

The New Jersey Appellate Division and Supreme Court held that the plain language of the N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) statute confirms that the phrase “on another” refers to someone other than the victim. Noting that the primary goal of statutory interpretation is to respect the Legislature’s intent, the Court noted that it would make no sense for the Legislature to require “severe personal injury” to the victim in sub-section (a)(6), to elevate sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault, if the attempt to cause significant bodily injury to the victim in (a)(3), which results in no injury, elevates sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault. Justin Albin, writing for our State Supreme Court, held that a more reasonable reading of the statute is that the “severe personal injury” provision of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(6) is intended to punish the enhanced violence committed against the victim, whereas the “aggravated assault on another” provision of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(3) is intended to punish the accompanying violence against a third person that is used as a means to exert more control over the sexual assault victim. Moreover, the unanimous Court noted that of the seven predicate offenses in (a)(3) that elevate second degree sexual assault to a first-degree offense, only aggravated assault is modified by the term “on another.” If “on another” refers to the victim, it would make no sense for the Legislature’s to not use the “of another” language with the predicate offenses of kidnapping, robbery or burglary in (a)(3).

As a result of the Court’s decision, the defendant was resentenced to prison on all of his remaining second degree convictions.