Philadelphia Assault Defense Attorney
If you were arrested and charged with the crimes of assault, aggravated assault, or simple assault, contact the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criminal defense attorneys at The Zeiger Firm. Our criminal defense attorneys understand the differences between these crimes and will zealously defend you against these charges. Generally, an assault is defined as an attempt or a threat to injury a person. Often, when our clients are charged with an assault crime, they are also charged with recklessly endangering another person (REAP) or possession of an instrument of crime (PIC). In Pennsylvania there is no distinction under the law between assault and battery. Regardless of the charges, our lawyers can defend your case.
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criminal defense lawyers at The Zeiger Firm understand the laws, rules, and procedures necessary to defend clients charged with assault and battery, and we fight to obtain the best results for our clients. We advocate zealously, never forgetting that our most important goal is obtaining the best results for our clients, whether that means fighting procedural battles or representing our clients before a judge or jury. We work hard for our clients, explaining their options and keeping them updated about the status of their cases.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to defend you after an arrest or charge of assault and battery, contact The Zeiger Firm, who represent every client zealously to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at (215) 546-0340 or send us an email via the form below.
Some assault crimes are charged as misdemeanors and this type of offense is often referred to as simple assault. However, do not be mistaken, as there is nothing simple about Pennsylvania’s assault laws or the criminal process that follows misdemeanor assault charges. Always take these charges seriously—just because they are not felony crimes does not mean that potentially harsh consequences won’t follow if you are convicted.
To convict you of simple assault, a prosecutor must prove that you recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally:
- Put another person in fear of imminent bodily injury
- Attempted to inflict bodily injury on another person
- Inflicted bodily injury on another person
For the purposes of the law, intentionally means that you had the specific intent to commit the illegal and harmful act. Knowingly means you had awareness of the nature of your actions and of the possible consequences of those actions. For example, if you charge at someone and they try to back away quickly and they fall and injure themselves, the law assumes that you knew their injuries may be a consequence of your trying to intimidate or frighten them. This would likely constitute assault. Challenging your intent or knowledge of a risk is one common way of defending against simple assault charges.
Recklessly does not necessarily mean you meant to hurt someone but that you acted with a deliberate disregard for the risks of harm created by your actions. If a reasonable person in the same situation would have recognized and appreciated the risks involved, an action can constitute criminal recklessness. Recklessness is often a subjective concept, and if the allegations against you claim you acted in a reckless manner, your attorney can argue that you did not act unreasonably in the situation and, therefore, the element of recklessness is not sufficiently satisfied for a conviction.
In addition to your state of mind at the time of the assault, another important concept to understand is what qualifies as a bodily injury. Almost any type of injury will qualify under the law—even a scratch or a bruise—as long as there was some type of physical impairment and some level of physical pain. Many people mistakenly believe that assault only involves serious injuries, but the state can issue simple assault charges for causing minor injuries—or even just the fear of suffering minor injuries!
Examples of a possible simple assault include:
- A person raises a hand as if to slap you—even if that person does not actually hit you, he committed assault if you believed he was going to slap you and hurt you.
- You accidentally bump into another patron at a bar and the patron turns and punches you. You did not commit assault because you did not intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly bump into the patron or cause harm in any way. The patron does commit assault when he punched you and caused you pain and gave you a black eye.
- Someone throws an object in your general direction to scare you. Even if the object does not hit you, it may constitute assault if you genuinely feared it would hit you. If the object does hit you, it constitutes assault even if the person only meant to scare you and did not mean to hit you.
The offense of assault encompasses many types of actions, and many people do not realize that their actions may result in assault charges. Have a skilled criminal defense lawyer closely examine the circumstances of what happened and the allegations against you to determine ways to defend against your charges.
Realize that words by themselves cannot constitute assault. Simply saying that you are going to hit someone without taking any action that causes fear that you actually may hit them is not enough to bring an assault conviction. One way to defend against assault charges is to demonstrate that your threats were empty and that you never took a physical step toward carrying out the threat.
In addition to the above basic definition of simple assault, the following types of conduct may also constitute simple assault:
- Negligently handling a deadly weapon in a manner that causes bodily injury to another person. A deadly weapon is an instrument—such as a knife or a gun—that has the ability to cause serious injury or death. Negligently means you acted in a risky manner when you knew or should have known of the risk of injury.
- Using physical menace to place another person in fear of imminent injury. Again, you must take physical action—words alone are not enough to qualify as criminal menace.
- Attempting to conceal or concealing a hypodermic needle to stick a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or an employee of a detention facility or mental hospital while they conduct a search or an arrest.
Penalties for Simple Assault in Pennsylvania
Generally speaking, simple assault is charged as a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. The charges can increase to a first-degree misdemeanor if the alleged victim of the assault was a child younger than 12 and the accused was 18 or older. On the other hand, if the assault took place during a fight into which the parties mutually entered, authorities will likely charge it as a third-degree misdemeanor.
The maximum penalties for each of these charges are:
- Third-degree misdemeanor – one year in jail and a $2,500 fine
- Second-degree misdemeanor – two years in prison and a $5,000 fine
- First-degree misdemeanor – five years in prison and a $10,000 fine
An experienced criminal defense attorney can defend against your simple assault charges and limit the penalties you face or persuade the prosecution to completely drop your charges. Call The Zeiger Firm to discuss your charges today.
In some situations, the prosecutor alleges that circumstances existed that can increase assault charges from simple assault to aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is also often referred to as felony assault because authorities can charge this offense as either a second-degree felony or a first-degree felony, depending on the specific situation.
The three major categories of aggravated assault follow, along with brief descriptions of each one.
Serious bodily injury. A prosecutor can convict you of aggravated assault by proving that you recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally caused serious bodily injury to another person or attempted to cause such injury. The definitions of recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally remain the same as for simple assault allegations. The word that differentiates this charge from simple assault is serious when referring to the bodily injury. An injury is considered serious under the law when it causes the any of the following:
- Serious or permanent impairments
- Serious or permanent loss of ability
- Serious or permanent disfigurement
- The substantial risk of death
When you act in a manner that causes or could cause any of the above, the law presumes you acted with extreme indifference to the value of human life and can charge you with a serious felony offense.
Assault with a deadly weapon. An assault with a deadly weapon is different from negligently handling a deadly weapon under simple assault laws. This type of aggravated assault involves using a deadly weapon to directly cause or attempt to cause bodily injury to another person. (Note that under these circumstances, a serious injury need not result.) Deadly weapons are those with the potential to cause serious injuries. Such weapons can be obvious—such as a knife or a firearm—but can also be less obvious.
For example, a glass bottle can qualify as a deadly weapon if you use it to cause serious injuries, because the glass could cut someone and sever a major artery, vein, or blood vessel, causing a person to bleed to death. Therefore, if you hit someone with a beer bottle in a bar fight, the charges could escalate to assault with a deadly weapon. In addition, in limited circumstances, a trained boxer or fighter may face charges of assault with a deadly weapon for simply punching someone, because they may carry deadly force in their punches.
Assault against minors. Aggravated assault also includes assault by a person 18 years or older against minors of certain ages. Specifically, these situations can involve:
- Serious bodily injury attempted or inflicted on a child younger than 13
- Any type of bodily injury attempted or inflicted on a child younger than six
This means that an adult who attempts to cause even the slightest injury to a young child may likely face felony assault charges.
Assault against a public employee or official. A simple assault may escalate to an aggravated assault if the victim of the assault was a public employee or official who was working or otherwise performing public duties. This type of assault does not have to involve serious bodily injuries but only must involve the cause or attempt to cause any type of bodily injury or the use of physical menace to cause the fear of imminent injury. In addition, authorities can charge this type of aggravated assault if a person allegedly uses a Taser or similar incapacitation device against a public employee or official.
Public employees or officials under the law include:
- Law enforcement officers, including sheriffs and police officers
- Correctional officers or employees
- Parole officers or probation officers
- Juvenile officers
- Parking enforcement officers
- Emergency medical technicians
- State legislators and officials
- Attorneys general
- District attorneys or assistant district attorneys
- Public defenders or assistant public defenders
- Public and private school teachers and school employees
- School board members
- Psychiatric aides
- Private detectives in business under the Private Detective Act
- Public utility employees
- County children’s services or social services employees
- Department of Environmental Protection employees
- Liquor control agents or officers
- Pennsylvania Game Commission or wildlife conservation employees
- Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or water conservation employees
If the victim of an alleged assault qualifies under any of the above categories and was in the process of performing public duties at the time of the assault, authorities can charge it as aggravated assault no matter what degree of harm a person attempted or caused. Even a mere scratch may result in serious felony charges under these circumstances.
Possible Consequences of Aggravated Assault Charges
Pennsylvania authorities can charge aggravated assault in one of two ways. If the assault did not involve actual or attempted serious bodily injury, the charge should constitute a second-degree felony. This can include:
- You used a deadly weapon to attempt or cause an injury that is not considered serious
- You caused a minor injury, but not a serious injury, to a young child
- You caused a minor injury, but not a serious injury, to a public employee or official
In the above situations, you may face second-degree felony charges with a possible maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
If an aggravated assault did result in serious bodily injuries or the prosecutor alleges that you specifically attempted to cause serious injuries, the prosecutor can charge you with a first-degree felony, which is one of the most serious charges under Pennsylvania law. First-degree felony convictions can mean 20 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
The possible penalties for felony assault convictions in Pennsylvania can completely change your life for years to come. There is too much at stake to wait. Call an experienced criminal defense attorney at The Zeiger Firm so we can begin working on your defense.
Other Types of Assault
Aside from the general charges of misdemeanor simple assault and felony aggravated assault, Pennsylvania law also sets out additional specific assault situations. These include:
Assault of a law enforcement officer in the first degree – This charge specifically applies to situations in which an individual knowingly or intentionally discharged a firearm to cause or attempt to cause injury to an on-duty law enforcement officer. A conviction for this offense can result in 40 years of imprisonment.
Anyone convicted of assault on a law enforcement officer will generally have to serve a sentence consecutively to any additional sentences for criminal charges. For example, if a person was arrested for a suspected robbery and then allegedly assaulted an officer, authorities can charge him with both offenses. If he receives a sentence of 10 years in prison for the robbery conviction and 10 years for the assault conviction, he will have to serve 20 years total in prison.
Assault by a prisoner or life prisoner – Specific assault charges apply to prisoners in jails, county detention centers, state prisons, or any other correctional facilities. The charge applies if such an individual attempts to cause serious injury or uses a deadly instrument on another person while imprisoned or transported. A deadly instrument in this situation can include causing another person to come into contact with bodily fluids from a person who was infected by a communicable disease, which may include hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and more. This type of assault conviction will result in a sentence served consecutively with the one the prisoner is already serving.
If prisoners serving life sentences or who await execution commit aggravated assault, they can face second-degree murder charges upon conviction, which results in life in prison without parole.
Domestic assault – Domestic assault is not charged as a separate crime from regular assault or aggravated assault in Pennsylvania. If an alleged assault takes place against a family member, household member, or sexual partner, police are required to make an arrest upon the report of such an assault. A victim does not have the option to drop the charges in Pennsylvania—instead, the prosecutor has full discretion whether to pursue assault charges.
A domestic violence case may also involve a separate proceeding to determine whether to grant a long-term protective order against you. Such an order can keep you from contacting your family, your children, or even from going back to your own house. Hire an attorney who can defend your rights in this hearing as well as in the complicated underlying criminal proceedings.
Like any assault charge, domestic-related convictions can result in fines and jail time, depending on the specific allegations. However, a conviction in a domestic-related case can also damage many other aspects of your life even if you do not go to jail. You may lose unsupervised custody of your children, certain professions may bar you, and more.
Defending Against Assault Charges
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you defend against assault charges. Perhaps the most common defense in assault cases is that you acted in self-defense.
Asserting self-defense means that you admit to assaulting another person, but you claim lawful justification for doing so. The law does not require that you simply sit there and allow an assailant to harm you. Instead, the law gives you the right to defend yourself against imminent or actual harm. This right comes with restrictions, though, and your actions must take place within the confines of the law to hold up as a valid legal defense.
First, in most cases, you cannot claim self-defense if you were the initial aggressor in the situation. If you started a fight and swung a first punch, you cannot claim self-defense if you then defended against a punch in return. However, if you started a conflict and then retreated in an attempt to end the conflict, and then another person tried to continue the encounter, you have the right to then defend yourself. An exception also applies if another person involved in the conflict suddenly escalated the situation. If you slapped someone and then they pulled out a gun, you can then defend against their higher level of force.
Another requirement for self-defense is that you must take proportionate actions to the threats against you. If someone comes at you, about to throw a punch, you are not lawfully allowed to shoot them or use other deadly force because a punch is not life-threatening. On the other hand, if a person points a gun at you, you may justifiably use potentially deadly force to protect your own life. Self-defense is a complicated legal concept and you always want a highly experienced lawyer on your side if you believe you want to claim self-defense.
An attorney can also help protect your rights in an assault case by:
- Presenting evidence of falsely accusation or misidentification
- Claiming you did not have the requisite intent for the crime
- Challenging the level of injury caused or the status of the victim to reduce your charges
- Reaching a favorable plea bargain with the prosecutor in which you plead guilty to lesser charges or receive a lesser sentence (such as probation instead of jail time)
- Representing you at a jury trial, if necessary
Contact a Philadelphia Assault Defense Lawyer as Soon as Possible
At The Zeiger Firm, we have defended many clients against assault charges. Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, never risk hiring inadequate legal representation. You have the right to an attorney from the time you are arrested, and our legal team can begin protecting your legal rights early on in the criminal process. Please call our office at (215) 546-0340 or contact us online today for help.