Beating your Aggravated Assault Charges in Pennsylvania
Aggravated Assault, found at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702, is one of the most serious crimes you can be charged with in Pennsylvania. Often, people believe “aggravated assault” refers to a justified assault—one that was “aggravated” by someone else. But aggravated assault is “aggravated” because it is more serious than “simple assault.” An aggravated assault is a felony, while simple assault is a misdemeanor. Despite its seriousness, aggravated assault is charged by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for everything from minor assaults on police officers or teachers, to major instances of child abuse, or even scuffles in the workplace. Proving that a fight was provoked or that an alleged victim’s injuries from an assault are not as serious as they claim are just two pieces to the puzzle of beating these charges.
To learn more about how to beat your aggravated assault charges, you can watch an aggravated assault attorney from Cornerstone Law Firm in the video below, or read on to learn more.
If you’ve been charged with aggravated assault, the police are saying you did one or more of the following nine things found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(a).
1. You attempted to cause “serious bodily injury” to someone, or you recklessly caused serious bodily injury to someone.
The most vanilla of aggravated assault charges is the first type. It requires the government to prove that you tried to cause “serious bodily injury” to someone, or that you did cause serious bodily injury “recklessly.” Let’s talk about each of those terms.
Serious bodily injury (“SBI”) is a term used a lot in the aggravated assault statute, but it is not specifically defined. In prior cases, serious bodily injury is an injury which causes permanent impairment of a major bodily function.
The government may try to claim anything from a scar to someone being paralyzed as a serious bodily injury—but proving to a judge or jury that a bodily injury really is “serious” is always the government’s job. An experienced aggravated assault attorney can help you by showing that the alleged injury isn’t as serious as the government claims, and by showing by comparison to prior cases that this injury doesn’t “count” for purposes of this statute.
The government must also show that you did this “intentionally.” As with all cases involving the “subjective intent” of a defendant, the government obviously cannot pry open your mind in court to show what you were trying to do when you allegedly assaulted someone. The law permits the prosecutor to use “circumstantial evidence” to show what your intent was. This can be anything from words or messages sent before the fight took place and can include witnesses who may try to speculate about what your motives were. A good defense attorney can help you by arguing your intent (or lack of it) from similar evidence.
The government can also succeed by showing you harmed someone unintentionally but did so recklessly with “extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Recklessness means you knew you were creating a risk of serious bodily injury to someone, but you ignored the risk and went for it anyway. Lighting a firework inside of a home has been charged under this standard, as has driving a car toward a crowd of people.
2. You attempted to cause serious bodily injury to a cop or certain other protected government employees.
Probably the most common situation that gives rise to aggravated assault charges in Pennsylvania is an “assault on a cop.” Police officers, firefighters, and most state agents are protected, while on duty, with an enhanced penalty if you assault them. Unfortunately, many police officers take advantage of this by tacking on an aggravated assault charge if they feel you didn’t submit to arrest quickly enough. For some officers, aggravated assault is nothing more than a resisting arrest charge—but with felony consequences.
Pennsylvania courts have routinely held that more than mere resisting arrest is required for an aggravated assault enhancement to apply. It must be more than an attempt to pull away or evade the officer—aggravated assault requires an attempt to injure the officer. What’s more—the government must prove serious bodily injury for this section to apply. This issue is usually best dealt with before a judge on a motion to dismiss your charges.
3. You attempted to cause bodily injury to government employees.
Similar to the last section, an attempt to cause bodily injury to police officers or any of those other government employees we talked about is aggravated assault. Why is this in here twice? An attempt to cause less serious bodily injury is a felony of the second degree, rather than the first degree.
4. You attempted to cause bodily injury with a deadly weapon.
Whether it’s a government employee or not, if you attempt to hurt someone with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault applies. Guns and knives are deadly weapons, usually, but what else might be? The government has argued in the past that everything from ropes to fists are deadly weapons. Challenging the government’s determination of a “deadly weapon” is an important part of your defense against this charge.
5. You attempted to cause bodily injury to a teacher or school employee.
We’ve covered the rationale on this in two prior sections, but assaults on a school employee because of their position as a school employee also fall under this statute. Take note that, due to language in the statute itself, the government has argued in the past that even private school employees, if the alleged victims of an assault, trigger these “enhanced” penalties. One difference from prior sections on government employees is that this section requires the government to show your attack was motivated by the fact that the individual was a school employee.
6. You attempted to put a public employee in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
The Commonwealth also seeks to protect its employees from anyone who would put them “in fear” of an imminent attack. If the government is charging you with this section, it will need to prove more than a threat. The prosecutor has to prove that someone reasonably believed that you were about to cause them serious bodily injury—and that it was possible for you to imminently carry out that threat. A telephone call or a letter, for example, probably won’t cut it. They’ll need to show an in-person threat that they reasonably believed and feared.
7. You used tear gas or a taser against a cop or public employee.
Section seven is unusual. It says you can’t use police weapons against police. That includes tear gas, tasers and similar devices, whether you bring them to the fight or steal them from an officer.
8. You attempted to cause bodily injury to a child who is less than 6 years old.
Finally, causing any bodily injury to a child under 6 (if you are older than 18) is aggravated assault. The government only has to prove bodily injury—not serious bodily injury—under this section.
9. You attempted to cause serious bodily injury to a child who is less than 13 years old.
And if you attempt to cause or do cause serious bodily injury to a child under 13 (assuming you are older than 18), then this is aggravated assault also.
Depending on which section you fall into, the charge could be listed as a felony of the first degree, or a felony of the second degree. Regardless of which section you’re charged with, having attorneys on your side to challenge the charges and fight for your innocence is vital. Some clients prefer to seek plea agreements, while others want to fight all the way to a jury trial. Regardless of which approach you want to take with your case, the criminal defense attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm stand ready to help you. Call us today for a consultation with a lawyer to discuss your case.