Felony assault, also called aggravated assault, is a legal term used to describe a specific type of crime. The definition of assault varies by state but is typically defined as the intentional act of causing another person to fear immediate physical harm.
An assault can occur even without a physical impact being made on the victim, such as in cases where an individual uses physical gestures such as a raised fist to threaten a victim with being punched.
In most states, there are two different types of assault charges which include simple assault and felony assault. Simple assault is less a severe form of assault than felony assault, and a conviction of simple assault is typically punished as a misdemeanor. Felony assault convictions carry harsher punishments and can have a lasting impact on an individual’s criminal record.
For an act of assault to be charged as a felony, the individual charged must have caused another person to feel as though they were in fear of being caused immediate physical harm, along with an additional aggravating factor.
There are multiple aggravating factors that can increase a simple assault charge into a charge for felony assault. These factors vary by state and by individual case, but typically include:
- Assault with a deadly weapon or using a weapon such as a gun or a knife to threaten another person with harm;
- Attempting to cause another person serious bodily harm by a physical act;
- Attempting to engage in sexual activity with a child under a certain, state-specific age;
- Assaulting a police officer or law enforcement official;
- An assault occurring on a street or highway that involves threatening a victim with a motor vehicle also referred to as vehicular assault;
- An assault that occurred in a protected location, such as a school zone, in an airport or on an airplane, on public transportation, or on government property; and
- An individual facing felony assault charges who has a history of past assault convictions.
The punishments associated with a conviction of felony assault vary by state. In many cases, judges have discretion when they impose sentences for felony assault.
Some examples of the common punishments for a felony assault conviction include:
- Payment of fines or payments of criminal restitution to a victim;
- A prison sentence of longer than one year;
- Felony charges permanently included on an individual’s criminal record, which may impact future employment and housing opportunities;
- Potential civil lawsuits filed against the victim, especially if the victim suffered injuries or damages as a result of the assault;
- Negative impacts on child custody and visitation rights;
- The suspension of a driver’s license or professional license;
- The loss of the right to own a firearm or weapon;
- Probation; and/or
- Mandatory anger management courses, community service requirements or completion of other rehabilitation programs.
The penalties for felony assault convictions may increase over time when multiple convictions are involved. In some states, felony assault is punishable in the first, second, or third-degree assault. Some states also have laws that require a punishm ent of a lifetime in jail if an individual is convicted of aggravated assault three times.
Felony assault convictions that involve acts of a sexual nature, also known as sexual assault, may result in an individual having to register as a sexual offender and being publically listed placed on a state’s sexual offender list.
There are many defenses that can be raised by an individual facing felony assault charges. These defenses typically vary by state and the specific charges involved. Some defenses may include:
- A lack of intent defense when a defendant argues that they did not intend to cause another person to be in fear of bodily harm;
- A consent defense may be used when a defendant argues that the victim knowingly agreed to participate in the act of the assault;
- A defendant may argue as a defense that they were unaware of the actions that lead to the assault because they were intoxicated or under the influence of drugs; and
- A self-defense argument can be made by a defendant if the assault was caused by their own attempt to protect themselves against harm or threat.
While you may be able to defend yourself against felony assault charges, successfully navigating the criminal court system can be a challenging process. Felony assault charges can result in severe punishments that can have a lasting impact on your life.
If you are facing felony assault charges, it’s in your best interests to consult with a criminal lawyer. A lawyer will be able to help you to better understand your rights and defense options in your case.