A statue of Lady Justice

Beating Simple Assault in Pennsylvania—18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2701

A simple assault charge in Pennsylvania is less serious than an aggravated assault charge, although the two are often charged together. Simple assault is a statute found at 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2701. There are four ways for the government to prove simple assault in Pennsylvania. To learn more about simple assault from a criminal defense attorney, you can watch this video, or read on below.

1. Attempting or causing bodily injury, intentionally or recklessly

The first way the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can demonstrate simple assault is by showing that you attempted to cause bodily injury to someone, or that you did in fact cause such bodily injury to someone. The government must show this was done intentionally or recklessly. In other words, the government has to show you were trying to hurt someone, or that you disregarded basic standards or safety when you harmed someone. This requires more than negligence (discussed below)—it requires that you intentionally disregarded a risk you knew about. As is often the case in criminal law, intent can be proven through “circumstantial evidence,” meaning that the government can ask a jury to “assume” what they think your intent is based on your actions. Of course, a criminal defense attorney can argue your intent was innocent, also.

2. Negligently causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon

The second way to show that you committed simple assault is to show that you negligently harmed someone with a deadly weapon. In Pennsylvania, guns and knives (even steak knives) have been ruled to be deadly weapons—but depending on the circumstances, the government may argue that even your fists could be deadly weapons. In some cases, you may be able to challenge the issue of whether something is a deadly weapon before the case goes to trial.

Negligence means taking a risk that the ordinary person would not have. This is a lower standard than recklessness. The government only needs to show that an person of ordinary prudence wouldn’t have done what you did with a deadly weapon.

3. Threatening imminent serious bodily injury

The third way the government can prove simple assault is by showing you “attempted by physical menace” to put someone in fear of “imminent serious bodily injury.” The “physical menace” phrase is vague, but has been defined as any “menacing or frightening activity.” Com. v. Repko, 817 A.2d 549, 554 (Pa. Super. 2003). Anything that causes a potential victim to believe that you intend to cause them serious bodily injury may be used by the government to argue for your guilt. This must have been done intentionally—being “scary” isn’t enough.

Serious bodily injury is defined in the law as something that impairs a major bodily function. In some cases, major scarring has been held to be serious bodily injury, and in others, concussions has been enough. The facts about the injuries the alleged victim suffered will be crucial in determining whether this element is met.

4. Attacking police with needles

You might think we’re joking, but we’re not: concealing a needle and attacking law enforcement during an arrest or search is also a simple assault. It’s not clear why this separate section was needed. Stabbing someone with a needle—even a clean needle—might satisfy the requirements of the first section above, regardless of whether they are law enforcement. It also isn’t clear why this section limits such an assault to when it’s done during an arrest or search. But the legislature wanted to make it clear: you can’t stab cops with needles while they’re arresting or searching you. So for any needle-wielding warriors out there, be aware that you are committing simple assault if you stab a cop—at least if it’s during an arrest or search.

Mutual Combat

In most cases, simple assault is a misdemeanor of the second degree. But if you and someone else are determined to have engaged in “mutual combat,” it is a misdemeanor of the third degree. Most of the time, a reduction from second to third degree is not all that important, and beating the charges or negotiating for a better agreement is preferable. However, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney about what is important to you in your situation.

Just remember: You’re not guilty just because you’re charged

Just because the government charges you with a crime doesn’t mean they can prove their case. The lawyers at Cornerstone Law Firm help clients in Reading, Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Allentown, Lewisburg, Scranton and beyond to defend their rights when charged with crimes. If you want to speak with a criminal defense attorney, call Cornerstone Law Firm today for a free consultation on your simple assault charges.