I've been charged with aggravated assault. What can I do?

cartoons fighting.jpegIf you were arrested and find out that you're facing aggravated assault charges, you may not believe it. The charges sound far more serious than anything that actually happened.

Aggravated assault is a felony, and you could wind up in jail for two decades. If you were facing simple assault charges instead, it would be a misdemeanor. This leads to only a one year sentence. There is a big difference in the penalties between the two offenses.

Who determines whether you will be charged with aggravated or simple assault charges? The difference is 19 years in jail. Here's how Pennsylvania courts apply assault laws:

Aggravated assault

It may be an aggravated assault if you caused a serious injury while demonstrating an "extreme indifference to human life." Using a weapon, such as a stun gun or noxious gas, qualifies. Even if the person was not harmed, if he or she was a government worker -- like a police officer -- or was a teacher in a school and feared a serious injury, you could still face felony charges.

Simple assault

It may be simple assault if your actions were reckless and negligent, rather than malicious. For example, acting carelessly and injuring someone with a firearm is very different than attempting to seriously injure or kill that person.

Simple assault also encompasses many cases in which weapons are not used, such as a fist-fight outside of a bar. Again, if you threatened a person with harm and he or she had reason to fear serious injury, you could face charges even when no physical harm occurred.

Defense options

So, what are your next steps? Every case is different, but one option is to fight for a reduced charges. For instance, maybe you don't deny that you injured someone, but it was a mistake or due to negligence and not an indifference to human life.

Other assault defense options may include:

  • Involuntarily intoxication - i.e. someone spiked your drink
  • The harm was unintentional - i.e. you never meant to harm anyone
  • Acting in self-defense
  • Provocation - the dispute wouldn't have happened without the other person actively drawing you into it. You had no inherent desire to harm him or her on your own.

When you're facing serious and life-changing criminal charges, make sure you know all of your legal options so that you protect your future.

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