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State of New Jersey v. Matthew L. Steffen

August 6, 2012

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MATTHEW L. STEFFEN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 09-11-2753.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued June 6, 2012

Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.

Defendant Matthew L. Steffen appeals from a judgment of conviction for third-degree aggravated assault with significant bodily injury, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(7), entered following a bench trial. During trial, the State presented testimony from the victim, Billie Lee Foster, the responding and investigating police officers, and the physician who treated Foster's injuries on the date of the incident, July 11, 2009. Defendant testified on his own behalf, arguing self-defense, and presented proof of injuries he received at the hands of Foster. Defendant additionally presented fact witnesses, including: a records custodian, his older sister, and character witnesses.

Following written post-trial submissions, Judge Bernard E. DeLury, Jr. issued an oral opinion, recounting the factual testimony regarding the violent interaction, resulting in physical injury to both Foster and defendant. Although noting Foster and defendant's conflicting testimony regarding the cause of the physical altercation, the trial judge found the evidence regarding Foster's injuries was uncontroverted. Judge DeLury found the evidence insufficient to support the State's contention defendant had purposely and knowingly caused serious bodily injury, finding instead that the evidence showed, beyond a reasonable doubt, defendant acted "recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life" resulting in "the probability and not the mere possibility of significant bodily injury."

Further, the judge determined the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt defendant's claim of self-defense was "untrue[,]" and under either party's characterization of events, defendant was "the initial aggressor" of the violent conduct. The judge also determined "the amount of force used by the defendant was unreasonably disproportionate to whatever he was trying to fend against[,] given the relative size and strength of . . . defendant and . . . Foster." Finally, the judge found defendant's assertion of retreat inapplicable.

Defendant was convicted of third-degree aggravated assault with significant bodily injury, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(7), a lesser-included offense to the charged second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1). Further, he was acquitted of the remaining more serious charges.*fn1 Judge DeLury sentenced defendant to three years probation and required he refrain from contact with Foster, maintain all probation appointments, submit random drug and alcohol screenings, obtain full-time employment or enroll in school, and obtain mental health counseling.

On appeal, defendant argues:

POINT I.

THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING DEFENDANT GUILTY OF AGGRAVATED ASSAULT PURSUANT TO N.J.S.[A.] 2C:12-1B(7) WHEN THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE VICTIM EVER LOST THE FUNCTION OF ANY BODILY MEMBER OR ORGAN OR SUFFERED THE TEMPORARY LOSS OF ANY OF HER FIVE SENSES.

POINT II.

THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING THE DEFENDANT GUILTY OF AGGRAVATED ASSAULT BECAUSE THE VERDICT WAS AGAINST THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE AND WAS BASED ...


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