Aggravated Assault

“Aggravated Assault” – what is it? Under Pennsylvania law, there are nine categories of acts that fall under the general heading Aggravated Assault. The vast majority of cases, however, fall into just two of those categories. Those two categories are, to paraphrase the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, (1) to cause or attempt to cause serious bodily harm to another, or (2) to cause or attempt to cause bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.

There are seven other categories under the broad heading of aggravated assault in the PA Crimes Code, but these become relevant only in rare circumstances. Some of these less frequently encountered acts might be, for example, causing injury to certain protected classes of people, such as police officers, fire fighters, and public school teachers.

Because aggravated assault is under PA law graded as a felony, the penalties are very stiff. If convicted of aggravated assault, a defendant could face jail time of up to ten years in prison, or up to twenty years if his acts cause serious bodily injury. If at the time of his sentencing it is determined that he has previous convictions involving crimes of violence (known as a “prior record score”), those penalties will be enhanced.

The principal distinction between aggravated assault and what is known as “simple assault” is that simple assault does not involve a deadly weapon, nor does it result in serious bodily injury. This latter distinction can result in the anomalous situation of the identical action resulting in very different criminal charges. For example, a weaponless assault upon a “sturdy” victim who consequently suffers only minor injury could, if the exact same actions were done to a somewhat frailer victim, result in much more serious injuries, thereby qualifying as an aggravated assault.

This is an example of the “eggshell doctrine”, under which, if a defendant’s acts cause serious bodily injury, he will be charged under the law in accordance with those injuries, even if most people would not have suffered so badly from the defendant’s actions.