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Assault Charges in Pennsylvania: Sentencing, Consequences, and More

People often mistakenly lump together various violent offenses as assault. While assault is a violent offense, specific categories of assault come with different penalties and sentencing requirements.

Assault is broken down into two broad categories: simple and aggravated assault. Simple assault is a relatively minor offense compared to the much more severe aggravated assault. While simple assault is generally graded as a misdemeanor offense, aggravated assault is often charged as a very serious felony. As such, the penalties for aggravated assault tend to be much greater than those for simple assault. On top of that, defendants facing assault charges must be aware of Pennsylvania’s 3-Strikes Laws, which impose greater mandatory minimum sentences for defendants convicted of a subsequent violent offense.

If you are currently facing charges for assault, you might be in very serious trouble. Our Philadelphia criminal assault defense lawyers can help you defend yourself and protect your rights. For a free case review, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long (215) 302-0171.

Different Assault Charges in Pennsylvania

As mentioned before, assault is divided into two broad subcategories. Aggravated assault is a serious felony and might involve acts of extreme violence or assault with a weapon or firearm. Simple assault is a comparatively lesser offense, usually charged as a misdemeanor. Our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you determine exactly what kind of charges you might face and how to handle them.

Simple Assault

The crime of simple assault can be found under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2701. Under the law, a person may be charged with simple assault in one of several ways. First, the defendant might be charged for knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily harm. This is a somewhat broad definition of simple assault and might encompass numerous alleged acts of violence.

Second, a person might be charged for negligently causing bodily harm with a deadly weapon. For example, accidentally shooting someone with a firearm because you forgot to engage the safety switch on the gun might be considered an act of simple assault.

Third, you might face simple assault charges for attempting by physical menace to threaten or intimidate someone and place them in fear of serious bodily harm. This might not necessarily involve actual acts of violence but threats of intimidation tactics.

Finally, simple assault charges might be assessed if you concealed a hypodermic needle on your person and intentionally or knowingly pricked a law enforcement officer during an arrest or search. This is a more specific instance of simple assault that only applies in instances where a person is being searched or arrested. You can call our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers for help in any of the circumstances mentioned above.

Simple assault is typically graded as a second-degree misdemeanor unless certain other factors are present. The defendant might be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor if the assault happened in a fight entered into by mutual consent. If the alleged assault was committed against a child under 12 by a person at least 18, it might be charged as a first-degree misdemeanor.

Aggravated Assault

Charges for aggravated assault are listed under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(a). This charge is far more serious than simple assault charges and is often charged as a felony. There are various circumstances under which a person might be charged, and our Montgomery County criminal defense attorneys can help you.

Aggravated assault charges may be assessed in many similar circumstances as simple assault if the alleged harm is more serious. While simple assault tends to involve bodily harm, aggravated assault involves serious bodily harm, and alleged victims often claim greater injuries.

Aggravated assault may also be charged if the target of the violence is a police officer, firefighter, corrections officer, or other certain government officials and officers. Similarly, aggravated assault charges may be assessed in cases where teachers or school employees are hurt.

Additionally, charges can apply in cases of assaults involving deadly weapons or firearms where the assault is done intentionally or knowingly. Aggravated assault charges may also apply if an adult injures a child younger than 6 or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly injures a child younger than 13.

Depending on the circumstances, aggravated assault may be charged as a first-degree or second-degree felony.

Penalties and Sentencing for Assault Charges in Pennsylvania

Simple assault is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and misdemeanor penalties can be found under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1104. A first-degree misdemeanor, just one step below a felony, may be penalized by up to 5 years in jail. A second-degree misdemeanor may be punishable by up to 2 years in jail, and a third-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

Aggravated assault charges are felonies and carry much harsher penalties under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1103. A first-degree felony is perhaps the highest charge a person may face and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. A second-degree felony conviction might see the defendant placed in prison for up to 10 years. Our Delaware County criminal defense attorneys can help you determine the best way to fight these penalties.

You must also be aware of Pennsylvania’s 3-Strikes Laws. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(a), defendants charged with violent crimes face increasing mandatory minimum penalties for each subsequent offense. If you are convicted of your second violent crime, you may face at least 10 years in prison. If you are convicted of a third violent offense, you face at least 25 years behind bars. These mandatory minimum sentences apply even if your second or third offense is a simple assault conviction that would ordinarily carry a much shorter punishment.

Defending Yourself Against Assault Charges in Pennsylvania

Being charged with simple assault or aggravated assault can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, especially since people are not very forgiving or understanding when it comes to violent crimes. While you might feel as though your name is being dragged through the mud, you have a right to defend yourself, and our team can help.

Challenging the Evidence

One tactic worth exploring is challenging the evidence against you. In a criminal trial, evidence is the name of the game. Depending on how your case proceeds, there might be numerous reasons for us to challenge the evidence.

One possibility is that the evidence being used against you was obtained by the police illegally. For example, weapons are sometimes involved in aggravated assault cases, and the police need the supposed weapon to use as evidence to back up the charges. If the police searched your property and seized an alleged weapon without a search warrant or an exception to the requirement for a warrant, the weapon might be tainted. Tainted evidence should be excluded. If our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys can exclude enough evidence or a select few pieces of key evidence, the prosecutor’s case might totally fall apart.

We can also challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. Even if all the evidence the prosecutor plans to use against you is legal and meets all necessary evidentiary standards, it just might not be enough. We can file a motion with the court to dismiss the case for a lack of evidence if there is no way the prosecutor can meet their burden of proof.

We can continue challenging evidence during your trial. After the prosecutor introduces evidence against you, we can argue to the jury why that evidence should not be believed or why it does not prove guilt.

Plea Agreements

While it might sound a bit counterintuitive, sometimes the best defense is to use a guilty plea to your advantage. This can be a very difficult decision to make, but it might be a defendant’s best option in some cases. We can work out a plea agreement or plea bargain with prosecutors to hopefully reduce your charges and penalties.

For example, perhaps the prosecutor originally charged you with aggravated assault, a very serious felony. However, the evidence to support those charges might not be very strong. Instead of risking a guilty verdict at trial, we can work out an agreement where you plead guilty to simple assault charges. While you might be pleading guilty, the charges are less serious, and the penalties and potential prison time are less harsh.

Remember, if prosecutors offer a plea deal you do not like, you do not have to accept it. Many plea agreements are negotiated. If you simply cannot accept the prosecutor’s final offer, we can take the case to trial, but you will likely face the original charges. Talk about a potential plea agreement with your attorney before making any final decisions.

Self Defense

Self-defense is a justification defense. In short, a defendant claiming self-defense admits to using violent force against the supposed victim, but their actions were justified for some reason. Often, self-defense defendants argue that they had to use force to protect themselves or others from harm from the victim. According to 18 Pa.C.S. § 503(a), your actions in the assault may be justified if the harm you sought to avoid was greater than the harm caused by your assault on the victim. Additionally, there should not be some other law that specifically excludes your actions or other factors of your case from being grounds for justification.

According to 18 Pa.C.S. § 505(a), your use of force against the alleged victim may be justified if you genuinely believed such force was immediately necessary to protect yourself from the victim’s unlawful use of force. For example, if the alleged victim attacked you first, and you felt the immediate need to use force to protect yourself from harm, you may claim self-defense.

Bear in mind that this is a complex area of law, and many circumstances might exclude you from claiming a justification. For example, under 18 Pa.C.S. 503(b), you might not be able to claim a justification defense if the need to use force to protect yourself arose out of your own recklessness or negligence. You may not claim self-defense if you somehow brought about the harm that required you to use force. This often excludes things like fighting when you instigated or willingly entered the fight.

What if I Am Convicted of Assault in Pennsylvania?

If you are convicted of assault charges in Pennsylvania, there might still be legal options at your disposal. Criminal defendants have a right to file a direct appeal unless they otherwise waive that right as part of a plea agreement. Even then, unlawful or invalid plea agreements may be appealed.

A direct appeal may be filed for a wide variety of reasons. If we believe a legal error was made during your trial that unfairly affected the outcome (e.g., led to a guilty verdict or unfair sentence), we can appeal your case to a higher court.

The higher appellate court does not hear new evidence, and attorneys do not argue over evidence and matters of guilt. Instead, the appellate court will review the trial record from your case and look for possible legal errors. Only errors we raise in our Statement of Errors we must submit to the court will be examined. If the court finds that there were legal errors that affected the outcome of the case, you might be granted a new trial and a second chance to prove yourself.

Common legal errors raised on appeal are evidentiary mistakes. For example, suppose the prosecutor introduces evidence that was seized by the police in violation of your rights, and the judge still allows the evidence in court despite your objection. In that case, we can bring up the issue on the appeal. If successful, you could get a new trial where the unlawful evidence is excluded.

Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Case Assessment

If you are facing charges for simple or aggravated assault, you should contact our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers for help. For a free review of your case, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long (215) 302-0171.