Felony assault, also known as aggravated assault, is a term used to label a particular type of crime. Although the exact definition of assault varies from state to state, it is generally defined as an intentional act that causes another individual to become aware of the fact that they will soon be subject to immediate physical harm.
An assault does not require the use of any physical force, but it does have to involve an act that is more serious than a verbal threat. In other words, the victim must be absolutely certain that they are about to be injured by some kind of violent action, which will be performed by the defendant.
When the offense committed fits the above description, it will most likely be deemed to be a misdemeanor assault or simple assault. Misdemeanor assault is the least severe form of assault and as such, will result in lesser legal penalties.
In contrast, a felony assault is described using the same underlying concept as a misdemeanor assault, but in this case, it adds some extra factor that causes the crime to be viewed as one that is more severe and carries weightier consequences.
An assault will be charged as a felony when the defendant not only causes the other person to feel as if they are about to be the victim of immediate and serious bodily harm (i.e., simple assault), but also involves some extra aggravating factor.
Finally, it should be noted that assault does not always have to occur with battery. These are two separate crimes. However, there are a handful of states that have merged them into a single criminal offense (i.e., assault and battery).
What Can Turn Misdemeanor Assault into Felony Assault?
As previously mentioned, the laws of a particular state will largely dictate which assault crimes will be classified as a misdemeanor versus which ones are considered felonies.
The reason for this uncertainty is because each state has its own separate criminal statutes that define and categorize whether a crime should be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor offense, and more specifically, when a misdemeanor offense should rise to the level of a felony.
For instance, a misdemeanor assault may occur when a defendant threatens to strike the victim with their fist. Misdemeanor assault can be charged as a felony assault when the defendant threatens to strike the victim with a deadly weapon (or some other item) that would inflict greater harm on the victim than a fist would if the defendant’s threat is carried out (i.e., the assault becomes a battery).
Aside from an assault committed with a deadly weapon, other aggravating factors that can turn a misdemeanor assault into a felony assault include the type of victim (e.g., a child or a police officer) involved, the extent of bodily harm done, and whether the defendant was a first-time or repeat offender.
What are the Penalties for Felony Assault?
Every state has enacted its own sentencing guidelines for when a person is convicted of felony assault charges. Again, since felony assault is considered a much more serious crime than misdemeanor assault, the legal penalties will match the level of severity.
Generally speaking, the punishment for felony assault is similar to those for most felonies, which usually includes having to serve a prison sentence and paying heavy fines. Any other specific consequences will be provided in the relevant statute of a particular state and will depend on the facts of an individual case.
As an example, the state of Texas divides the levels of felony assault by degrees, with third-degree being the lowest and first-degree preserved for the most serious level of felony assault. Thus, the sentences and punishments would be distributed in accordance with these degrees.
For instance, a defendant convicted of committing first-degree felony assault in Texas can receive a prison sentence ranging between anywhere from 5 years to life, plus a fine of $10,000 or more. In contrast, a person convicted of committing a third-degree felony assault in Texas can receive a sentence for up to 10 years of imprisonment, plus a fine of up to $10,000.
This is just a general guideline for one state. These penalties and sentences may also vary and increase when other factors are present in a case, such as if the defendant is a repeat offender (e.g., they will receive an even greater punishment), or if the assault results in the victim’s death.
Are There Any Defenses to Felony Assault?
There are several defenses that can be raised by someone who is facing charges for felony assault. The type of defense they can use will depend on both the degree of the felony as well as the laws of a particular jurisdiction. Some of these defenses may include:
- Lack of Intent: This is a defense where the defendant argues that they did not intend to cause the other person to be in fear of bodily harm;
- Consent: The defense of consent may be raised and will be successful if the defendant can prove that the other party knowingly agreed to partake in the assault.
- Involuntary Intoxication: If the defendant was involuntarily intoxicated (e.g., someone slipped a drug into their drink), then they can argue that these circumstances caused them to be unaware of the actions that led to the assault.
- Self-Defense or Defense of Others: A defendant may choose to argue self-defense when they admit to the assault, but are claiming they only did it to protect themselves from the initial threats of harm made by the other party. Similarly, defense of others can be raised when the defendant commits an assault on the first aggressor after they threatened a third party.
- Duress: This is another defense where the defendant will need to admit that they did in fact commit felony assault, but in this case, their actions were the result of being pressured to do it by another person or else risk having serious physical injury inflicted on themselves.
In addition, a defendant may also argue that their actions did not rise to the level of a felony assault. In this instance, they will attempt to get their felony charges reduced to that of a misdemeanor assault.
It should be noted, however, that this is only a partial defense to felony assault. This means that the charges will not completely be dismissed, but instead, can make the consequences of their crime less severe.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Facing a Charge of Felony Assault?
Being convicted of any type of crime that involves a felony offense is a very serious matter. Aside from the resulting legal penalties, the conviction can lead to long-lasting consequences since it will most likely remain on the defendant’s criminal record for the rest of their life.
A criminal record can hurt your chances of getting hired for a job, gaining custody of your children, and sometimes, it can even impact your right to vote. Therefore, if you are facing charges for felony assault, then you should contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to explain your charges, the laws regarding felony assault in your area, and the potential outcome of your case. An attorney can also help determine if there are any defenses available for your case and whether there is a better legal strategy to use when arguing your case.
Finally, an attorney can assist with filing the necessary court documents, providing representation on your behalf in court, and ensuring that your rights as a defendant are protected.