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What Is Aggravated Assault?

What is aggravated assault? Image of assault.

Assault is a crime that appears in many forms. The more serious types of assault are generally referred to as aggravated assault, even if some local statutes do not define it in those terms. In plainest terms, an aggravated assault is an attack that causes serious bodily harm to another person.

An aggravated assault is one that carries a more serious charge category and subjects the offender to more serious punishments. Assault crimes are aggravated (or enhanced/elevated) by a wide range of circumstances surrounding the crime, such as the severity of the violence, or even the perpetrator's state of mind.

Factors that raise an assault charge to the aggravated level can vary somewhat from state to state, as some require a permanent injury or a substantial risk of death. Often, aggravated assaults qualify as felonies, while simple assaults can be misdemeanors. Many states also have multiple degrees of criminal charges for aggravated assault.

Assault With a Deadly Weapon

Use of a deadly weapon during an assault can cause a charge to be elevated from simple assault to aggravated assault. This enhancement typically applies regardless of whether the use of the weapon actually caused any injury to anyone. Although a simple assault does not require evidence of physical injury, a "harmless" attack with a deadly weapon is punished more severely because it tends to put the victim in serious fear for their safety. If an assault with a deadly weapon does result in a serious injury or risk of death, the charges and penalties could be doubly enhanced.

Weapons classified as deadly or dangerous weapons naturally include objects designed to inflict harm or cause death, such as guns, swords, or brass knuckles. For other objects, their classification as deadly weapons depends on how they are used in the assault. For example, a hatchet is generally not considered a lethal weapon, but a tool for chopping wood. If it is thrown at a victim, however, it could be considered a deadly weapon. Similarly, when a car is intentionally driven toward a victim, it suddenly becomes a deadly weapon in the eyes of the law.

Assault With a Special Victim

Some assaults become aggravated or enhanced because of the special characteristics of the victim, like their relationship with the perpetrator. For example, many states punish assault on police officers, firefighters, and even teachers more severely than assault and battery directed at civilians. In Texas, penalties are even increased for assaults against athletes or referees at sporting events. Typically, these enhancements apply only when the victim is performing their official duty when assaulted, or if the perpetrator is retaliating for some official action.

Many state statutes also raise punishments for assaults committed against people who are elderly, disabled, or pregnant.

The most common type of assault, domestic violence assault, is seldom treated as aggravated assault but is often criminalized under a statutory scheme in criminal law separate from ordinary assault laws.

Assault With Deadly or Cruel Intent

The mental state of the perpetrator can also push assault charges from simple assault to aggravated assault. If the offender acted with the intent to cause severe bodily harm, a simple assault charge could become aggravated assault.

Hate for a particular group can also be a basis for enhancing assault charges; assaults on members of certain protected classes can constitute hate crimes. Hate crimes can include assaults based on the race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability of the victim.

Depending on the state, reckless behavior could also constitute aggravated assault. For example, if someone acts with reckless indifference to human life, but without the specific intent to injure any particular person. If a dangerous or deadly weapon is involved, reckless conduct could become an aggravated offense even without any specific intent to injure. This reckless behavior could include throwing rocks into moving traffic or firing a pistol into the air on a city street.

Sexual assaults are almost always categorized separately from other assaults. Depending on the state laws, an assault of a sexual nature could be charged as battery, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, or rape.

Degree of Injury to the Assault Victim

More serious injuries to the victim can cause an otherwise simple assault to be elevated to the aggravated level. In most states, any assault causing serious bodily injury can qualify as an aggravated assault. The seriousness of the injury can also be defined in different ways by different state statutes. Some states require that the injury create a risk of death, while others enhance assaults that cause permanent injury, disfigurement, or great bodily harm to the victim.

Other states only vaguely define the element of serious injury. If a method of assault that would normally cause death only causes more minor physical injury, some states will still punish it as aggravated assault (although it could be attempted murder).

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Aggravated Assault Charges

Since aggravated assault covers such a wide range of circumstances, a detailed examination of the facts of your case is critical to developing a successful defense. A knowledgeable, local criminal defense lawyer can help explain the details of local assault statutes and examine the facts of your case for potential defenses. Find an experienced criminal defense attorney near you and get some peace of mind.

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