Law Offices of Michael T. Nolan, Jr.

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What is the meaning of “aggravated” in a criminal charge?

In the event you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in New Jersey, you may have wondered about the meaning of certain terms used in the charging documents. For example, when a charge is deemed “aggravated,” it means that the crime committed is particularly egregious.

According to the New Jersey criminal jury instructions for aggravated manslaughter, the term “aggravated” means that a crime was committed with “an extreme indifference to human life.” This element can be proved by reviewing factors relevant to those circumstances that show such indifference or disregard for the lives of others.  The factors reviewed must show that a person was aware of the probability that the acts committed would put others at risk of death. The risk has to be enough to show that the person charged not only failed to act as a reasonable person but also that there was a “gross deviation” from the standard of care required.

A charge of manslaughter is “reckless” if it shows that a person disregarded a “substantial and unjustifiable” risk of death. Such recklessness is similar to the tort of negligence insofar as it must be shown that the defendant did not act as a reasonable person under the circumstances.

If it cannot be proved that a person acted with an extreme indifference to human life, then a person may be charged with the lesser offense of reckless manslaughter. One may know something about the seriousness of a charge  by taking note of whether there is probable cause to believe the crime was aggravated or not.

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