While a simple assault is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, an aggravated assault is a first- or second-degree felony. However, what makes an assault aggravated as opposed to simple?
The aggravating factors that elevate an assault to the level of a felony include the status of the victim or victims, the alleged perpetrator’s state of mind, and the weapon used, if any, and under what circumstances.
The law regards certain groups of people as particularly vulnerable and affords them special protection. Groups with protected status include children under the age of 6 and young adolescents under the age of 13. They also include law enforcement officers and public officials:
- Public defenders
- District attorneys
- Elected officials
An attempt to injure a teacher or another school official or employee, including student employees, while working at an elementary or secondary school also constitutes aggravated assault.
State of mind
A person does not have to cause bodily harm to someone of protected status to commit aggravated assault. An attempt to inflict serious injury is sufficient, as is an intentional, reckless or knowing injury caused under circumstances that show extreme indifference to human life. An attempt to place a victim in fear of serious bodily injury amounts to aggravated assault if the victim is a law enforcement officer or public official performing his or her duties at the time.
The use of a deadly weapon demonstrates indifference to the value of human life. Therefore, using a deadly weapon for an assault is an aggravating factor. When the intended victim is a public official or law enforcement officer performing his or her duties and the alleged victim uses certain weapons against him or her, it amounts to aggravated assault. Examples include portable electronic devices meant to incapacitate the victim and noxious gas, including tear gas.
Aggravated assault carries a potential prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. This depends on whether the charges are in the first or second degree.