Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Pennsylvania
An issue that frequently comes up in Aggravated Assault prosecutions is whether or not the defendant used a deadly weapon in the commission of an assault that resulted in bodily injury. In cases where the defendant is charged with attempting to cause or knowingly or intentionally causing bodily injury, the Commonwealth may seek a conviction for Aggravated Assault as a felony of the second degree instead of Simple Assault if the Commonwealth can also show that the defendant used a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense.
Bodily injury is defined as "impairment of physical condition or substantial pain," and a deadly weapon is defined as "any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, or any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury, or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner in which it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury." In cases involving a knife or a gun, it is relatively simple for the Commonwealth to show that a deadly weapon was involved for purposes of the Aggravated Assault (F2) statute because those weapons are clearly identified in the statute. There may be other potential defenses, but it will likely not be a defense that the weapon involved was not deadly.
what is a deadly weapon in pennsylvania?
However, when the defendant is alleged to have used some sort of non-traditional weapon, the issue becomes much more complicated because any object can become a deadly weapon depending on how it is used. Under the statute, if the object is used or intended to be used in a manner calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury, then the object could qualify as a deadly weapon even if it is not something that would normally be thought of as a weapon. Accordingly, appellate courts have found that even such seemingly harmless objects as eggs can be deadly weapons if the eggs are thrown at moving cars. In that scenario, an egg could be a deadly weapon because the manner in which the egg was used could lead to a car accident which could produce or serious bodily injury.
IS MACE A DEADLY WEAPON?
Recently, in Commonwealth v. Chambers, the Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that mace (pepper spray) could qualify as a deadly weapon under the statute depending on how it is used. In Chambers, the defendant was convicted for Aggravated Assault. The trial court found that Chambers had engaged in a fight with the complainant, and during the fight, a co-conspirator sprayed the complainant with pepper spray. Chambers and a number of other people continued to punch and kick the complainant, leaving the complainant with a concussion, lacerations which required stitches, a burnt retina in his eye, and some broken bones. The trial court found Chambers guilty of Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon on the theories of co-conspirator and accomplice liability because one of Chambers co-defendants used the mace. Chambers appealed, arguing that the mace did not constitute a deadly weapon because it is "an instrument which is not inherently a deadly weapon" and because the Commonwealth did not present any evidence regarding the chemical composition of the mace.
The Superior Court rejected Chambers argument. The court accepted the trial court's conclusion that even if the mace was not inherently a deadly weapon, it became a deadly weapon because of the manner in which it was used against the complainant. Although mace may not cause permanent injuries on its own, the mace in Chambers was used to incapacitate the complainant so that the group could continue to beat him and cause more serious injuries. Therefore, the mace was used in a manner which made it more likely that the complainant would suffer death or serious bodily injury because he could not defend himself from the ongoing assault.
Therefore, depending on the circumstances, an item like mace may or may not be a deadly weapon for purposes of the Aggravated Assault statute. If the defendant simply sprays mace in the complainant's eyes and the complainant does not suffer serious bodily injury and there is no further assault, then the mace may not be a deadly weapon. If the mace is used to incapacitate the complainant so that the complainant can be injured, then the mace may qualify as a deadly weapon.
WHAT IS serious bodily injury?
In cases involving "serious bodily injury," the defendant will typically be charged with Aggravated Assault as a felony of the first degree, and whether or not the defendant used a deadly weapon will not be as relevant. However, it could still be relevant at sentencing because there are sentencing enhancements when a deadly weapon is used or possessed during the comission of an offense. Serious bodily injury is defined by the Pennsylvania Crimes Code as "bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ." Therefore, serious bodily injury is typically going to involve things like broken bones, brain damage, organ failure, shootings, and stabbings. In other words, serious bodily injury involves permanent or at least lasting damage.
HOW OUR PHILADELPHIA ASSAULT LAWYERS CAN HELP
Regardless of whether the defendant is charged with Aggravated Assault as a felony of the first or second degree, Aggravated Assault is an extremely serious charge. Our Philadelphia assault lawyers have successfully defended many clients charged with all types of assault. The most important thing to do if you are facing assault charges is to act quickly. Do not delay and allow valuable evidence and witnesses to be lost. Video surveillance may often start to be deleted in as little as 24 hours. If you are charged with any type of assault in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties, call the Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC at 267-225-2545 for a complimentary 15-minute criminal defense strategy session.