An intentional act that causes fear and harm to another person is an assault. The harm may or may not be physical in nature. It means placing another person in imminent bodily harm, even if the victim is not bodily harmed. It is recognized as an act deserving of punishment.
To understand assault better, it is said that words alone cannot be called an assault, as people may threaten to cause harm without the intention of carrying it out.
What is aggravated assault?
Aggravated assault is similar to assault or simple assault. It is an attempt to cause serious injuries to another person without any regard for human life. Elements that raise any simple assault to an aggravated assault typically includes the use of a weapon, the intent of the perpetrator, the degree of injury caused, and the status of the victim.
For example, if Tom points a gun at Jack, it constitutes an aggravated assault, as it inflicts fear by the use of a deadly weapon. But if the gun is not loaded and Tom points it at Jack to frighten him, then it does not constitute as an aggravated assault.
How is aggravated assault different from assault?
In many states in the U.S., assault is classified as simple and aggravated. The distinction is based on the gravity of the harm that is caused or may be caused if the assaulter follows through and strikes the victim. Aggravated assault is a felony when it involves an assault with an intent to cause serious harm, such as rape, as well as an assault committed using a weapon.
Let us consider the example of Tom and Jack again, where Tom assaults Jack. In this situation, if Tom only raises his hand to punch Jack, it is an assault. If Tom punches Jack, it is assault. If Tom takes a brick that is lying nearby and hits Jack, it’s aggravated assault, as the brick is used as a weapon. Even if Tom fails to strike Jack, his intention of causing serious injury using a weapon is considered to establish the case as an aggravated assault.
An assault that mostly looks like a simple assault can be aggravated over time in any relationship. Most times, such aggravated assault is considered as a simple assault and filed as a misdemeanor, unless the legal system reputes it as worthy of special protection.
For example, Tom is a married man who is very friendly and helpful to everyone. During a party, Jack finds Tom’s wife to be pale and scared to socialize. Only after confronting her, it was found that Tom has been assaulting her for several years. As per the law, it is defined as aggravated assault, as it occurred in the course of the relationship.
How is aggravated assault different from a battery?
A battery offense is the completion of an assault or the actual act of harm caused to another person without their consent. It is defined as an intentionally offensive and harmful touching of another person.
Initially, battery and assault were considered separate crimes, as battery required for the assaulter to actually strike and complete the assault. But now, “assault and battery” has become a common phrase, and crimes of actual physical violence are termed as assault. The difference between battery and aggravated assault is the same as assault and aggravated assault.
What are the elements of an aggravated assault?
Aggravated assault consists of four elements that are:
- The perpetrator or accused unlawfully, as well as intentionally, threatened the victim by word or act to cause harm.
- When the threat was made, the perpetrator appeared to have the capability and the intention to carry out the threat.
- The threat made by the accused created a well-founded fear in the mind of the alleged victim that violence was about to take place.
- The threat or assault was made with a deadly weapon, and/or with an intent to commit a felony.
The most important element of aggravated assault is that it involves a weapon to commit the crime or the intention to commit a felony. If you consider the first element, “intent to threaten violence” is the intent element that is required for the accused to be prosecuted. The state need not prove that the accused intended violence against the alleged victim; the “intent to threaten violence” is sufficient.
Considering the fourth element, “assault with intent to commit a felony,” if the accused engages in various felonious acts caused by the conscious intent to commit a felony, it can give rise to any number of aggravated assault cases, such as rape, murder, and burglary. Most times, the charge is based on circumstantial evidence, such as the conduct or statement indicating the felonious intent.
Is aggravated assault a federal offense?
In the federal criminal system, if you throw a punch at someone, you are accused of assault, and if you point a gun at someone, you are accused of aggravated assault. Certain assaults are considered as a federal offense, especially when:
- They take place on U.S. territory, such as at a federal prison, on the grounds of a national park, or onboard a U.S. ship, among others.
- The victim is a United States employee.
- If it occurs during an attempt to rob or steal from the U.S. government.
The following aggravated assault offenses are considered as a federal offense and prosecuted under federal law if they occur on the U.S. territory:
- An aggravated assault with an intention to commit a murder or a felony: Intent to commit felony and intent to commit a murder are two different offenses. The intent to murder is an aggravated assault designed to kill, unlike the felony, where the accused points a knife to rob someone.
- An aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon: It occurs when the perpetrator or accused physically threaten the alleged victim with a dangerous weapon intending to injure. The weapon is considered dangerous if it can seriously harm someone, even if the weapon is not inherently hazardous, such as a shoe or a belt.
What is the penalty for an aggravated assault under federal law?
Under federal law, aggravated assault with an intention to commit a murder or a felony, as well as aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, carries potential imprisonment. A simple assault leads to imprisonment for up to six months that can also lead to a fine. However, there are several factors that will increase this to an aggravated assault charge with more severe consequences.
If the attacker is found guilty, aggravated assault is punishable in all states as a felony. The penalty for aggravated assault varies depending on the degree of injury caused to the victim, as well as on the state where the assault took place. While in some states an aggravated assault is treated as a felony, in other states, it is treated as a misdemeanor. The possible penalties for aggravated crime include imprisonment, probation, fines, electronic monitoring, and mandatory anger management classes, among others.
What if the victim is a minor?
If you, the accused, have assaulted a person who is under 16 years of age, the maximum imprisonment of six months increases to one year, making it a felony aggravated assault.
If there is “substantial” injury to a child of 15 years or younger, then you will face potential imprisonment that can be as long as five years.
What if the assault has caused a serious injury?
It is important to first understand what constitutes a serious injury. The injury is considered ‘serious’ if:
- It results in a substantial risk of death.
- It causes extreme physical pain.
- It results in continued and noticeable disfigurement, impairment or the long-term loss of any body part.
If you, the accused, have caused “serious” injury, then you will face potential imprisonment that can be as long as ten years for this aggravated assault.
What if the assault was with an intent to commit murder or a felony?
If the assault was with an intent to commit murder, then you will face potential imprisonment as high as 20 years. As for an intent to commit a felony, imprisonment is up to ten years and an aggravated assault charge.
What about an aggravated assault with a weapon?
Most times, the prosecution is circumstantial and is based on the injury caused to the victim in case a weapon is used. An assault with a dangerous weapon carries with it a penalty of up to ten years of imprisonment.
What if the assault was on a federal officer or a federal employee?
If you assault a federal employee, you cannot defend your case by stating that you did not know the victim was a federal employee. Aggravated assault of a federal employee by use of a deadly weapon can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
What if the assault was during an attempt to take federal property?
An assault with an intention to take federal property can result in a prison sentence of up to ten years, and increase up to 25 years if:
- The victim is severely wounded.
- A dangerous weapon is used that endangers the victim’s life.
- The accused has been previously convicted for a violation of the same crime.
Degrees of Aggravated Assault
Aggravated assault in itself causes serious injury to the victim, irrespective of the degree. But for the purpose of assigning penalty, it is divided into first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree aggravated assault.
First-degree aggravated assault is when the crime is committed deliberately. It is an aforethought premeditated hatred that has resulted in an intention to attempt to commit serious injury, or intentional and serious bodily injury is caused.
Second-degree aggravated assault is when the crime is committed without deliberation or premeditation.
Third and fourth-degree aggravated assaults are usually brought if the perpetrator attempts to commit any significant bodily harm. The mental status of reckless indifference can aggravate the crime to a second-degree aggravated assault. Though third and fourth-degree aggravated assaults are lesser offenses, the penalty for these crimes is high.
Defenses for Aggravated Assault
If you are accused of aggravated assault, your first and foremost step must be to hire a criminal lawyer. There are several defenses used, such as self-defense, coercion, among others. Your lawyer can fight your case based on several defenses; the most important are the following arguments:
- The inability of the defendant to commit a violent injury: Intention to commit bodily harm must be accompanied with the means to commit harm as well. For example, if Tom is accused of aggravated assault against Jack, Tom must have some means, such as a loaded gun. If Tom has an unloaded gun, he can defend himself with the inability to commit violent crime.
- Self-defense or in defense of others: Your lawyer cannot use self-defense as a claim if the victim is seriously injured. This is because, in the case of self-defense, the accused can’t use more force than is necessary for the given circumstance. The force must be appropriate to legally fight back and not more. If the accused claims self-defense, then someone who is accused must stop after subduing the assailant and not continue to attack, causing serious injury. But if there is only substantial injury, then your lawyer can defend you by claiming self-defense, as everyone has the right to defend themselves as well as others when their lives are in danger
- False accusation: You can be defended by claiming false accusation only if there is no hard evidence proving that you are guilty. In the absence of hard evidence or witness testimony, the case will be dismissed.
- Lack of intent: In the case of aggravated assault, intent implies willful act to inflict pain or harm another person. If your lawyer proves the absence of intent, the aggravated assault case is dismissed.