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What is aggravated assault?

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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Aggravated assault is an attempt to cause serious bodily injury to another or to cause serious bodily injury purposely, knowingly or recklessly, with an extreme indifference to the value of human life. Aggravated assault also occurs when a person attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. In all jurisdictions, statutes punish aggravated assaults, such as assault with the intent to murder, rob, kill, or rape, as well as assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon, more severely than simple assaults. 

Aggravated vs. Simple Assault

As opposed to aggravated assault, a simple assault (also just assault) is any willful attempt or threat to inflict injury upon the person of another. What this means is, an assault may be committed without actually touching, striking, or doing bodily harm to the person of another. An intentional display of force that would give the other person reason to fear or expect bodily harm constitutes assault. For example, if an individual threatens another while holding up his or her fist, this is probably simple assault. However, if the assailant has a deadly weapon while threatening injury upon another, this would most likely elevate the charge to aggravated assault. 

Deadly weapons are weapons that may be used to cause a serious or fatal injury. Deadly weapons include guns and knives, but can also include other instruments that, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be considered deadly weapons. For example, suppose an assailant threatens an individual with bodily harm while holding a butter knife to their neck. While a butter knife is not normally considered to be a deadly weapon, a jury could find that it was being used as one under these circumstances.

A simple assault can also rise to the level of an aggravated assault charge depending on the identity of the victim. Some states will prosecute any type of assault on an on-duty police officer or firefighter as an aggravated assault. Some states will even elevate the assault charges when the victim is pregnant. Generally, the assailant must have known, or should have reasonably known, of the victim’s status. Whether the assailant knew or not can be shown by either the uniform, appearance, or the conduct of the victim.  

Degrees of Aggravated Assault

The definitions of the different degrees of aggravated assault vary according to state laws. In general, however, first degree aggravated assault occurs when the act is committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought. This means there must be either an intentional attempt to commit serious bodily injury or intentional serious bodily injury must have been committed.

Second degree aggravated assault occurs when the act is committed without deliberation or premeditation. However, the mental state of “reckless indifference” can elevate a lesser charge to a second degree charge, as can a protected status of a victim, such as a police officer. Lesser offenses include third degree aggravated assault and fourth degree aggravated assault. These charges are usually brought if the assailant attempts to commit significant bodily harm, rather than serious bodily harm. Lesser offenses are usually seen in fist fights and other similar situations, but the penalties for committing these offenses are still high. 

Aggravated Assault Defenses

Aggravated assault defenses vary by jurisdiction. However, there are several common defenses that may apply to all levels of assault. Consent, prevention of crime, and official acts are some examples of common aggravated assault defenses. Consent essentially means that the victim consented to the risk of harm. When there is consent, the victim can be prohibited from bringing an action when an assault occurs. Consent may be a defense in cases of horseplay, games (boxing, wrestling, martial arts), surgery, and even getting a tattoo or a piercing. 

The defense of prevention of crime is used when the assailant was acting to protect himself in self-defense or was acting to protect others, which is called defense of others. The prevention of a crime can also mean the defense of property. Self-defense or the defense of others can be used when the assailant can show that the reason for committing the assault was based on a reasonable fear for their own safety or the safety of another.

Defense of property occurs when the assailant commits an assault to protect their property from an individual. In these cases, courts will generally allow the use of reasonable force to protect one’s own property from theft or damage. A defense based on an official act is most commonly used in cases where forceful arrests are made.

Penalties for Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault penalties depend on the degree and any injuries that may have occurred. Penalties also depend on the state where the assault took place. Aggravated assault charges can be treated as misdemeanors in some states, while other states will treat this charge as a felony. For example, in some states average fines and jail time for an aggravated assault conviction range from $150-$500 and from four months to one year in county jail, while in others, fines and jail time average $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.

Because penalties for this type of crime depend on both the degree of assault and the state in which the assault was committed, an individual should always talk to a lawyer to determine accurate penalties for his or her case. Possible penalties for aggravated assault include jail time, probation and electronic monitoring, fines and court costs, parole, mandatory anger management classes, restitution for the victim, and/or loss of the right to own or possess a firearm or weapon.

Aggravated Assault Convictions

A conviction of an aggravated assault charge can have serious consequences on your life, especially if it is treated as a felony conviction. Many places of employment will not hire convicted felons, and if you already hold a professional license, you may not be able to get it renewed with a sustained felony conviction. A felon can also lose basic rights for a number of years, such as the right to vote, serve on a jury, or own a firearm.

In states that have “three-strikes” laws, such as California, a felony aggravated assault conviction can also count as a “strike.” This means that if you already have two other felony convictions, or are convicted with other felonies in the same trial, a third strike for aggravated assault can put you in prison for life.

If you have been charged with aggravated assault, you will need a criminal defense attorney to advocate on your behalf. A criminal defense attorney can explain the legal details of the charges against you, the consequences, and whatever options you may have for a defense.

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