What is aggravated assault?

Aggravated assault is a serious felony charge of intentionally and recklessly causing injury. An aggravated assault conviction can seriously affect your life. You could face a lengthy prison sentence and be considered a convicted felon who cannot vote, own firearms, or even find a job in some industries. If you need quick and reliable legal advice regarding aggravated assault charges, use our free legal tool below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 7, 2021

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We all know the impact an aggravated assault charge can have on your life, but what does it mean? Aggravated assault is an attempt to cause serious bodily injury to another or to cause serious bodily injury purposely, knowingly, or recklessly, with 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.

Learn more about what makes an aggravated assault and what happens if you are charged with aggravated assault. If you need legal help, just enter your ZIP code below.

What is the difference between 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 victim. 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 a 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. Both these criminal charges can have life-altering effects.

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.

Deadly weapons are weapons that may be used to cause a serious or fatal injury. They 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. Especially if a law enforcement officer was present and saw it as a dangerous weapon, you could be facing serious charges.

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Is an Assault More Serious If the Victim Is a Cop?

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 also elevate the assault charges when the victim is pregnant leading to more time and a more serious criminal record. 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. If the courts are unsure, reasonable doubt may come into play. If you’re in this situation, criminal defense lawyers can assess your situation and tell you what your chances are. Lawyers also advise clients on the minimum sentence and other factors that may affect their decisions.

What Does Aggravated Assault Look Like?

Here are some examples of aggravated assault in the criminal courts:

  • striking or threatening to strike a person with a weapon or dangerous object
  • shooting a person with a gun or threatening to kill someone while pointing a gun at the victim
  • assault with the intent to commit another felony crime such as robbery or rape
  • assault resulting in serious physical injury
  • assault (threat of violence) while concealing one’s identity, and
  • assault against a police officer, healthcare provider, social services worker, disabled or elderly person.

Are there 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. In other words, there must be either an intentional attempt to commit serious bodily injury or intentional serious bodily injury must have resulted.

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 peace 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 fistfights and other similar situations, but the penalties for committing these offenses are still high.

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How Do Lawyers Defend against Aggravated Assault?

Aggravated assault defenses vary based on the assault laws in the individual 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. The prevention of a crime can also mean the defense of property. Self-defense or the defense of others can be used when the defendant can show that the reason for committing the assault was based on a reasonable fear of physical harm to themselves or people around them.

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. These types of defenses are often more successful in “stand your ground” or “castle” states.

What are the penalties for aggravated assault?

Aggravated assault penalties depend on the degree and any associated injuries. It’s not necessarily divided by physical contact or lack thereof. 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 potential 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 and defense strategies for their 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. Depending on the case, it could mean years with a dedicated probation officer.

What happens after an aggravated assault conviction?

A conviction of aggravated assault can have serious consequences on your life, especially if it is treated as a felony conviction. Maximum penalties could take away your freedom and follow you for the rest of your life. Many places of employment will not hire convicted felons. 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, the third strike automatically leads to a life term of imprisonment. Even without the “three-strikes” laws, repeated assault convictions can lead to serious prison time.

If you have been charged with any form of assault, you will need a criminal 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. They can also explore the details of your case from lack of intent to criminal history and factors like domestic violence or sexual assault. Whatever your circumstances, you are entitled to a strong defense and a fair trial under the law.

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