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The Difference Between Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault in Pennsylvania

Most people have probably heard of criminal assault charges but may not be aware of how different levels of assault are charged depending on how the offense occurred. In Pennsylvania, prosecutors may charge defendants with simple or aggravated assault.

Simple assault and aggravated assault are very similar offenses. Both involve knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly causing bodily harm to another person. The difference is the degree of harm and the circumstances of the assault. Simple assault involves minimal to moderate harm, while aggravated assault involves more serious injuries or more shocking circumstances. The penalties for aggravated assault tend to be higher than those for simple assault. These charges may also be connected, and simple assault charges may be upgraded to aggravated assault under certain circumstances.

If you are facing assault charges, our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case evaluation to get started.

What Constitutes Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault in Pennsylvania?

According to 18 Pa.C.S. § 2701(a), simple assault may be charged under four different circumstances:

  • Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, bodily harm to another person,
  • Negligently causing bodily harm with a deadly weapon,
  • Putting another person in fear of harm through physical menace or intimidation, or
  • Concealing a hypodermic needle and using it to stab a law enforcement officer correctional officer during an arrest.

The harm involved in simple assault tends to be less serious and usually non-life-threatening. Aggravated assault under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(a) is similar to simple assault, but the stakes tend to be higher.

A greater degree of harm is often involved, and how the assault occurs may be more malicious. When someone causes another person serious bodily injuries under circumstances amounting to extreme indifference to human life, they can be charged with aggravated assault.

There are also numerous specific instances of aggravated assault listed in the statute, many of which involve causing harm to specific kinds of people. Harming police officers, transportation workers, teachers, and other people listed in the statute may lead to charges for aggravated assault. This often includes the use of a deadly weapon, but not always. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you understand your aggravated assault charges.

Do Penalties for Aggravated and Simple Assault Differ in Pennsylvania?

Aggravated and simple assault are different degrees of the same offense. As such, these charges come with different penalties. Because simple assault is the lesser of the two offenses, a defendant can expect to face lighter penalties than for aggravated assault. You can call our Pennsylvania assault defense attorneys for help no matter which charges you are facing.

For both charges, the grading of the offense may vary based on the circumstances. Simple assault charges are generally charged as second-degree misdemeanors. However, the offense may be charged as a third-degree misdemeanor if the assault occurred in a mutually entered fight. The charges may be first-degree misdemeanors if the alleged victim is a minor under 12 and the defendant is at least 18.

In Pennsylvania, a third-degree misdemeanor may be punished by no more than 1 year in jail. A second-degree misdemeanor may be punished by no more than 2years in jail. Finally, a first-degree misdemeanor may be punished by up to 5 years in jail.

Aggravated assault is more serious and may be charged as a first- or second-degree felony. A second-degree felony may carry a prison term of no more than 10 years. A first-degree felony, one of the most serious charges possible, carries a prison term of up to 20 years.

How to Fight Charges for Simple and Aggravated Assault in Pennsylvania

Because simple and aggravated assault charges are different, they may require different defense tactics. Simple assault is a lesser charge than aggravated assault, and there may be little room to reduce the charges further. However, depending on the circumstances, an attorney may negotiate with prosecutors to reduce your charges to something like disorderly conduct. This might be possible in cases where the defendant was engaged in a mutually entered fight when the assault allegedly occurred.

If we cannot reduce the charges, our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help you fight the charges and work towards an acquittal or a dismissal of the case. A key element of simple assault is the defendant’s intent. If your actions were not knowing, intentional, or reckless, the charges should not stand. Self-defense claims are also possible in many cases.

Aggravated assault often requires a more aggressive defense strategy because the stakes are so high. In many cases, we can work with prosecutors to reduce your charges from aggravated to simple assault. For example, perhaps prosecutors want to charge you with aggravated assault because they believe a gun was used during the alleged offense. If we can suppress evidence about the gun, we can urge prosecutors to reduce the charges to simple assault where use of a gun is not an element.

Can Simple Assault Charges Be Upgraded to Aggravated Assault in Pennsylvania?

When dealing with assault charges, defendants often walk the line between these offenses. Both charges deal with bodily injury to victims and may involve weapons. The surrounding circumstances often determine whether an assault is simple or aggravated. As such, prosecutors may change your charges from one to the other as the case unfolds.

Usually, prosecutors like to start a case with the highest charges possible and then work those charges down if needed. For example, if you are charged with aggravated assault, we can argue that the bodily harm involved does not rise to the level of harm required for these charges. In that case, prosecutors might be willing to downgrade your charges to simple assault.

On the other hand, if new evidence comes to light suggesting that the defendant’s behavior during the alleged offense was so heinous as to show extreme indifference to human life, prosecutors will immediately want to upgrade the charges.

Our Montgomery County criminal defense attorneys can help you take advantage of the situation by suppressing as much evidence as possible. The less evidence the prosecutors can use in their case against you, the harder it will be for them to charge you with aggravated assault.

Call Our Pennsylvania Assault Defense Lawyers

If you are facing assault charges, our Philadelphia simple assault defense lawyers can assess your case and help you fight the charges. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long today at (215) 302-0171 for a free case review.