“Deadly weapon” is a very broad term. It refers to any object, substance, device, or instrument designed to be used in a way that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm or with which death or great bodily harm can be easily and readily produced.

A wide range of objects can inflict death or great bodily harm. Guns and large, dangerous knives are obvious examples, but many more things have been deemed to be deadly weapons: cars, if used to run someone down; boats; gardening tools; golf clubs; small pocket knives; shoes; axes; hammers and other tools; a firecracker in a glass bottle; purses; canes; broken bottles, and an intact quart bottle of whiskey; dogs that have been trained to attack humans on command; a pencil or pen if it was used to stab someone; large rocks; unloaded guns, if used to club or hit someone); and baseball bats.

A Texas court held that a floor was a deadly weapon because the defendant slammed the victim’s head down on it.

The definition is intentionally broad. so defendants won’t be able to find loopholes. Essentially any object connected with an assault could be determined to be a deadly weapon. To determine whether something is deadly, courts (typically juries) consider the physical qualities of the object, as well as

  • The size and weight of the object
  • How the defendant used it, including the degree of force used
  • The type and bodily location of injuries to the victim

Can Parts of the Body be Used as Deadly Weapons?

In some states, a person’s hands, feet, teeth, knees, and elbows can be considered deadly weapons. Though the human body itself is not a deadly weapon, it can certainly be used in such a way as to cause another person great bodily injury or death.

For example, in Colorado, a man in his thirties punched a seventy-year-old man several times because the older man accidentally hit a golf ball into the defendant’s car. The older man’s injuries were extensive – eight fractures near his eyes, nose, and mouth. His nose was essentially crushed. The defendant appealed his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon by arguing that his mere fists could not be considered a deadly weapon. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed.

Colorado is not alone – other courts have found body parts to be deadly weapons: a fist, in a case in Alabama where a mother beat her 20-month-old child to death; feet, in a case where a kick lifted the victim off the ground and rotated him 90 degrees.

In states that consider body parts weapons, a judge or jury will analyze the facts to determine if they were deadly weapons in the particular case. Some factors that a judge or jury may consider are:

  • The manner of blows, hits, or kicks (i.e., the degree of force used)
  • The number of times the defendant attempted to kick, hit or bite the victim
  • The extent of the victim’s injuries
  • The location of the injuries on the victim’s body

The more severe the attack and injury, the more likely a court will rule that a body part was a deadly weapon. Courts have found body parts to be deadly weapons when the victim:

  • was rendered unconscious
  • suffered brain damage
  • had a fractured skull

Note, though, that while some states have ruled that body parts can rise to the level of deadly weapons, certain states specifically exclude the human body from the definition of “deadly weapon.” For instance, in California, the body can’t be a deadly weapon in the context of assault with a deadly weapon, even though it may inflict deadly force. Deadly weapons are limited to objects external to the body.

What is Assault?

The legal meaning of the term “assault” is counterintuitive for most people since we think it means a physical attack that causes harm. But in the law, assault does not require physical contact. You can commit a criminal assault without touching anyone. It is an assault when a threatening act or statement causes the other person to believe they are about to be attacked. You could be charged for getting into another person’s personal space.

Battery is a crime where you touch someone offensively, and it causes some type of harm. Assault and battery are often charged together as a prosecutorial way of doubling up charges to ensure that the defendant is found guilty of something.

What is Assault with a Deadly Weapon?

When you combine the definition of “deadly weapon” with that of “assault,” you find that “assault with a deadly weapon” is a crime in which you threaten someone with a dangerous weapon or object. A prosecutor must prove the following two elements to convict you of this offense successfully:

  1. You assaulted someone
  2. You did so using a deadly weapon. Some states consider knives, guns, bludgeons, and iron or brass knuckles as “deadly weapons per se,” meaning that the law defines them as deadly weapons, and the prosecutor need not present evidence of their ability to cause death or serious bodily injury.

What Are the Penalties for Assault With a Deadly Weapon?

Courts across the United States consider the crime of assault with a deadly weapon to be particularly serious. Assault with a deadly weapon is a felony offense regardless of the actual injuries the victim suffers.

Penalties vary by state and the circumstances of the assault. For example, a person convicted of assault with a deadly weapon resulting in no bodily harm might face a few years in prison. If the crime results in harm or targets a vulnerable victim, the maximum penalties could increase to 5 or 10 years in prison, and if both occur, the penalties will increase even more.

Stiffer penalties generally apply if:

  • The weapon is a firearm, especially an automatic or machine gun. States sometimes place these assaults in the category of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. These penalties could range to 15, 20, or more years in prison.
  • The victim suffers serious injuries.
  • The victim falls under a protected class, such as a police officer or a vulnerable adult.
  • There is a balance of power discrepancy based on the relative ages of the victim and defendant.
  • The defendant has a prior criminal record.

A defendant found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon might also be required to pay a fine. In California, a fine of up to $10,000 can be imposed as punishment for a conviction of felony assault with a deadly weapon.

Should I Contact an Attorney If I Am Facing a Deadly Weapon Charge?

If you face a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. It is especially advisable to speak to an attorney before you talk to the police. Your lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights, guide you through the legal process, and represent your best interests in court.

The punishment for conviction of assault with a deadly weapon charge can involve a lengthy period of imprisonment, so it is important to speak with a knowledgeable assault attorney as soon as possible. If you are facing a charge of assault with a deadly weapon or even possessing an illegal or offensive weapon, you want to have a good criminal defense attorney.