When does self defense go too far?

The decision by New Brunswick police this week that no charges would be filed against the man caught on video last month knocking a woman unconscious with a single punch to her head sparked a debate over whether the police made the right decision.

Former Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, now a criminal defense attorney, believes that the decision, at least for now, seems to be the right one.

The fact that 19-year-old Emily Rand was severely injured in the incident, put into a coma and remains hospitalized after surgery to her skull is irrelevant in deciding whether the man responsible should be charged, Bianchi said.

The fact that the person who was an aggressor winds up getting injured doesn’t mean that it wasn’t self defense.

Police described the incident as a "mutually exclusive fight between the individuals," noting that Rand struck the man first and that she was "aggressive towards other people before the video starts."

"The fact that the person who was an aggressor winds up getting injured doesn't mean that it wasn't self defense," Bianchi explained. "Anybody who uses force against another person is justifiable ... in that they reasonably believe the force is necessary for the purpose of protecting themselves."

New Jersey law also requires that the responding force be "proportional." If someone slaps you and your response is a gunshot to the chest, the law won't be on your side.

"This is a one-punch fight," Bianchi continued. "It becomes a lot different, then, if she had gone on the ground and when she was in an unconscious state, he continued to beat her."

On Thursday, a woman claiming to be the mother of the man called into the "Deminski & Doyle" show on New Jersey 101.5 to defend her son, saying he claimed to not know that the person who hit him first was a woman.

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New Jersey 101.5 video

“I never taught him to hit women,” she said. “He told me ‘she hit me like a guy; I just reacted. When I saw it was a woman I got scared and I ran.’”

“My son is devastated that she was as injured as she is,” she said. “My son is little. He’s only about 5’3’’, 125 pounds soaking wet. And this girl is a big girl And I’m not saying she deserved what happened. This is a very unfortunate situation.”

Rand's aunt previously told New Jersey 101.5 that her niece had been reacting to a group of men who had been calling her and her friends "whore" and slut."

"She took offense to it and yes she went around and slapped a couple of the guys," Debbie O’Connor said last week.

From the evidence so far, Bianchi said it appears very unlikely that a jury would unanimously find the man guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and "that's probably why the cops didn't charge."

Bianchi said prosecutors, or the family if they choose to press charges, may have a leg to stand on if it can be proven that the man — whose identity police did not release — had full knowledge that he could safely escape from the incident without causing harm. But this type of argument is rarely ever proven, he said

As part of their investigation, police interviewed the man who threw the punch and other people who had been at the scene.

Rand, a South Amboy resident enrolled at Middlesex County College, continues to slowly improve at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center, according to O'Connor.

The altercation left her with a fractured skull and a concussion.

"She remains on oxygen for her breathing," O'Connor said Thursday. "When she tries to mouth words she is very hoarse. She should be starting therapy today."

A GoFundMe page, with a goal of $5,000, has been launched to assist Rand's family with the cost of medical care and other expenses. The cause will also be assisted by a fundraiser planned for Dec. 3 at Sacred Heart Memorial Hall in South Amboy.


Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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