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What Is Aggravated Assault?

Assault is a crime of violence. Most states categorize the crime based on its severity, with simple assault generally charged as a misdemeanor and aggravated assault as a felony. An assault is an intentional act whereby the offender creates an apprehension in another person of an imminent act of violence. The offender must have the apparent and present ability to carry out the threat of harm or offensive contact. Actual physical contact is not necessary for the crime of assault.

Elements of Aggravated Assault

All states consider aggravated assault to be a felony offense, though some states consider it to be a “wobbler”—an offense that could be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances. As its name implies, the charge of aggravated assault must be more than just scaring or threatening someone with physical harm. For example, spitting on someone is offensive contact, though it may not be physically harmful, as is pretending to punch someone. Both are examples of simple assault.

For aggravated assault, the typical elements are:

  • An intent to create an apprehension in another person;
  • An act that would likely result in the application of force with a deadly weapon or with some other means of force likely to cause serious bodily injury; and
  • The present ability to cause the application of force that would cause serious bodily injury.

Likely to Cause Serious Bodily Injury

You do not have to have a weapon to be charged with aggravated assault. If you beat someone with your fists or kick them repeatedly and cause broken bones, disfigurement or a serious concussion, you could be charged with a felony. Great or serious bodily injury includes broken bones, wounds requiring surgery, permanent scarring or disfigurement, loss of a limb or sensory organ, loss of consciousness, and internal bleeding.

The weapon used can be as simple as a pencil so long as it causes serious bodily injury. In this case, as with any other more serious weapon such as a knife or firearm, you could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The use of a firearm usually means an enhanced sentence.

Other Examples of Aggravated Assault

Depending on your state’s laws, you can be charged with aggravated assault under these circumstances:

  • Elevated DUI resulting in serious injury to someone
  • Intentionally causing any type of injury to a pregnant woman
  • Intentionally causing any type of injury to a child under a certain age
  • Strangulation or causing someone to have difficulty breathing
  • Assault of a police officer regardless of whether it is simple assault

Defenses to Aggravated Assault

There are a number of defenses to aggravated assault, which include:

  • Consent: People who engage in games, martial arts, or wrestling have consented to the possibility of harm.
  • Lack of knowledge of status: If you reasonably were unaware the person was a police officer or that the victim was pregnant, you may be charged with only simple assault.
  • Self-defense: Protecting yourself or others is justifiable if you had a reasonable fear for your or someone else’s safety.

Most states require that you use only the force necessary to protect yourself and not use unreasonable force. You may not use a deadly weapon in most instances, though some states do allow firearms if you reasonably fear for your safety regardless if the attacker possessed a deadly weapon or not.