Aggravated Assault Definition

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 What Is an Aggravated Assault?

The term “assault” refers to the criminal act of intentionally placing another individual in reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm or offensive contact. Although this definition is subject to change based on the laws of the jurisdiction hearing the case, the standard case for assault is as follows:

  • The defendant must have intended to create a state of apprehension or fear in the victim. An accidental act will not give rise to assault charges – it must be intentional
  • The prosecutor must prove that the victim reasonably believed they would be harmed or offended by the defendant’s conduct. In other words, the victim must have been aware of the defendant’s threat to harm or offend them
  • The victim’s belief of impending injury must be both reasonable and one that creates a sense of immediate, physical danger. The belief cannot be based on a future act, and it must be more than a verbal threat (note that there are some exceptions).
  • The defendant must have exhibited a present intention to harm or offend the victim through a physical act

Some examples of assault include:

  • Miming the act of hitting, punching, or kicking the victim
  • Attempting to spit on the victim
  • Brandishing a deadly or non-deadly weapon in a manner that suggests that object will hurt the victim
  • Pointing a gun at the victim, regardless of whether it is loaded or not

In addition, some states have statutes that define assault as criminal attempted battery. (Battery is defined as an intentional physical act that results in a harmful or offensive touching of a person without that person’s consent.) However, assault and battery should not be confused with one another since many jurisdictions treat them as separate offenses.

Many states’ criminal laws classify assaults as either simple or aggravated, depending on the severity of harm that occurred or the harm that was likely to occur if the assaulter had struck the victim. Some states further classify aggravated assault as first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree assault based on the seriousness of the harm inflicted.

Aggravated assault is a crime that is considered a more serious form of assault. Aggravated assault may be charged as a felony (a crime for which the defendant can be sentenced to more than a year in prison). It typically consists of physical actions that cause serious bodily harm, such as an assault with a deadly weapon (such as a pistol, knife, brass knuckles, etc.) or an assault involving another aggravating factor.

What Are Examples Of “Aggravating Factors”?

The term “aggravating factor” refers to any circumstance related to the crime that somehow worsens the crime. Aggravating can significantly increase a crime’s penalty. What could constitute an aggravating factor is determined by statute; examples of aggravating factors vary according to each jurisdiction. Some examples of commonly accepted factors include:

  • The defendant has a prior criminal record, especially if it is for violent offenses
  • The defendant’s intention in threatening the victim
  • What tools or weapons were used to commit the assault
  • How the crime was committed – was it especially cruel
  • The assault was an element of treason
  • The status of the victim and their relationship to the defendant
  • The degree of injury that was inflicted
  • Was the assault committed with the intent to carry out another crime

Aggravated assault is also referred to as felony assault. (A felony is a serious crime that can be punished by a minimum of one year in prison). An assault would likely be charged as a felony when the defendant commits assault involving an aggravating factor.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Accused of Aggravated Assault?

If you have been accused of aggravated assault, you should immediately consult a criminal defense attorney. Aggravated assault is a serious crime and carries serious criminal charges and consequences. These consequences could include one or more of the following:

  • Long term imprisonment
  • The crime is included in the defendant’s criminal record
  • Fines of thousands of dollars
  • Loss of the right to possess a gun or any other deadly weapon

Civil liabilities can also occur if the victim sues the defendant over the assault. Monetary damages can include compensating the victim for any injuries or losses that resulted from the aggravated assault.

There are some steps you may take to help overcome aggravated assault charges. These steps begin with hiring an attorney to defend you and your rights in court. Additionally, maintaining as much evidence as possible to support your case will better your chances of beating an aggravated assault charge.

What Are Common Defenses to Aggravated Assault?

State laws define what actions constitute aggravated assault. As such, they also define what defenses may be argued in response to the charges. Factual innocence is, by far, the best defense for aggravated assault. However, other defenses may be offered in your state. Some examples of these defenses include, but may not be limited to:

  • You were acting in self-defense
  • You were acting in the defense of someone else
  • You were defending your property
  • Provocation – you were reacting to a perceived threat from the victim
  • Consent – the victim actually consented to the assault
  • No proof of a deadly weapon
  • The victim assumed the risk, meaning they voluntarily and knowingly assumed a risk of harm. Perhaps the two of you were joking around about punching each other, so the victim assumed the risk that it might go too far
  • Involuntary intoxication: If you were involuntarily intoxicated (e.g., someone slipped a drug in your drink) when the assault occurred, then you may be able to argue that your actions were not intentional or that you were unaware of the events that led to the assault
  • Duress or coercion: You may assert that you were under duress or coerced to commit the assault. You will need to prove that someone else forced you to choose between committing the assault or suffering serious physical harm yourself; for instance, if someone held you at gunpoint and told you to assault the victim or risk being shot.
  • The violation of constitutional rights at the time of the arrest

Barring factual innocence, the best defense for aggravated assault is lack of intent. This means you did not intend to cause the victim any fear or actual harm. This is a defense because the crime itself is dependent on the intent to cause fear or actual harm

Properly using a defense may lessen or dismiss the charges against the defendant altogether or to get the charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Should I Hire an Attorney if I’m Facing Aggravated Assault Charges?

If you are facing an aggravated assault charge, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable assault attorney early on. An experienced criminal defense attorney can inform you of your rights, determine any valid defenses, and represent you in court as needed.

On the other hand, if you are a victim of an aggravated assault, you should immediately contact your local authorities. Further, you should contact a criminal lawyer in your area to see your other options.


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