What Is the Difference Between Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault in Pennsylvania?

A question I am asked often is, “What Is the Difference Between Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault in Pennsylvania?”

In Pennsylvania, assault is one of the most frequently charged crimes. When most people hear the term “assault,” they think of fist fights between two people, or possibly incidents of domestic violence involving married people, couples dating, or family members. While these are all examples of assaults, legally “assault” encompasses a much wider spectrum of interactions between people. The consequences of a conviction for an assault offense vary as widely as the possible types of offense: penalties can range from probation to up to forty years in jail.

Simple Assault in Philadelphia

Perhaps the most commonly charged assault crime is simple assault. Simple assault is defined in Pennsylvania when bodily injury is:

  1. attempted or caused intentionally or recklessly;
  2. caused due to negligence with a deadly weapon;
  3. alluded to by physical menace and the victim feels fear of imminent injury; or,
  4. attempted or by concealing a hypodermic needle on one’s person and penetrating a law enforcement officer or employee during the course of an arrest or any search of the person.

Simple assault is usually graded as a misdemeanor of the second degree which carries a possible sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5000. If a simple assault is committed by someone who is twenty-one or older and the victim is twelve or younger, the crime becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree. This can result in a sentence of up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. A mutual fight between two people, however, is a misdemeanor of the third degree which carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison, and a fine of no more than $5000.

Aggravated Assault Charges

Aggravated assault is a much more serious form of assault. Aggravated assault usually involves assaults with weapons, assaults on police, and incidents where people cause (or merely attempt to cause) “serious bodily injury.” If a person is found guilty of causing bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon, the assault will likely be graded as an aggravated assault which is a felony of the second degree. Such a conviction carries a possible maximum sentence of up to ten years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.

For example, if a person cuts someone on the arm with a knife, this would likely be charged as an aggravated assault and a felony of the second degree. Now, if a person stabbed someone in the chest, or was attempting to cause serious bodily injury but only managed to stab a victim in the arm or hand, the alleged attacker would still be charged with the crime of aggravated assault, however, it would be graded as a felony of the first degree. First degree felonies carry a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

The term serious bodily injury is an important term used in the definition of aggravated assault. It has a very complex definition which has been defined by statute and refined by case law and court decisions. An important point about the charge of aggravated assault is that a person charged does not have to actually cause serious bodily injury to be charged with the most serious form of the crime. The fact that the person just had the mindset to cause serious bodily injury is enough to be found guilty – and sentences for such a case can be substantial.

Penalties for Aggravated Assault

A conviction for aggravated assault committed with a gun automatically results in a mandatory minimum sentence of five to ten years in state prison. Even if no weapon is involved and no serious bodily injury is caused, a conviction for aggravated assault can result in a mandatory state prison prison sentence if the victim is a under 17 years old, or over 60 years old. A second conviction for aggravated assault graded as a first degree felony carries a mandatory minimum sentence of ten to twenty years in prison; a third conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 to 50 years imprisonment or life imprisonment if the judge sees fit. This is known as Pennsylvania’s Three Strikes Law.

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