Defenses to Aggravated Assault Charges in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire, explains the most common types of Aggravated Assault charges and some of the potential defenses to those charges available under Pennsylvania law. If you are under investigation or facing criminal charges in PA or NJ, call 267-225-2545 to speak with an award-winning criminal defense lawyer today.

The following is an automated transcript of the video. Please excuse typos and otherwise errors as it was produced electronically and only lightly edited. 

Hi, my name's Zak Goldstein, I'm a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia with the law firm Goldstein Mehta LLC. We handle a lot of aggravated assault cases. And so that's the topic that I'm going to talk about today, which is aggravated assault. Now in general, Aggravated Assault is always a felony in Pennsylvania in state court, and there are three main types of aggravated assault that a criminal defendant could find themselves dealing with in Philadelphia and in counties throughout Pennsylvania. The first type is the most serious. It's a felony of the first degree, and when aggravated assault is charged as a felony of the first degree, then it typically involves serious bodily injury, meaning the defendant caused knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly caused or attempted to cause serious bodily injury to another person. Typically, that's going to involve either someone, someone really being injured, or it's going to involve a weapon. 

So if you shoot somebody, if you stab somebody,  multiple times, you know, you punch someone 100 times and bones are broken, that's usually going to be aggravated assault as a felony of the first degree. Now, the second type is aggravated assault involving law enforcement or other protected classes. It could be a correctional officer, police officer, a judge, public defender, district attorney, a Septa employee or a healthcare worker or doctor, all members of protected classes for the felony of the second degree, aggravated assault statute. In that case, it no longer has to be serious bodily injury. If you try to cause bodily injury or knowingly or intentionally, and it can't be reckless, meaning it can't be an accident, you can't just be flailing around. It's got to really be an attempt to, or something you meant to do. If you caused bodily injury or attempted to cause bodily injury to someone who's set out in the statute, like a police officer, then that is always a felony of the second degree. This is true even if that person just has some minor bruises or redness or swelling, it doesn't have to be a serious bodily injury.

And then the third type of aggravated assault is also a felony of the second degree. That's bodily injury with a deadly weapon. Meaning say you stab somebody in the arm and they're totally fine. They make a full recovery, they get a stitch or two, you know, it's not a major permanent injury, then that might just be bodily injury with a deadly weapon because the knife used for the stabbing a is a deadly weapon, but it's not serious bodily injury or business, not something that's going to permanently effect their lives. There was no risk that they were going to die. It's aggravated assault as a felony of the same with the grade. Now, for each of these charges, there are defenses. 

You're charged in state court in Pennsylvania. You have the absolute right to a trial with a judge or the jury. In most cases you're also gonna have a preliminary hearing. And so with some of these aggravated assault charges, there are defenses even at the preliminary hearing level with the sufficiency of the evidence, particularly with aggravated assault as a felony of the first degree. Many times the winner of a flight gets charged with aggravated assault. The complainant will say, oh, I got punched, you know, five times, 10 times. I got punched a bunch of times in the head and the prosecution will try to argue that that's aggravated assault as a felony of the first degree. So in terms of the sufficiency defense, there's probably going to be a defense. Well, serious bodily injury was not caused. This person was not really injured and just punching or throwing some kicks is part of a fight, well, that's not an attempt to cause serious bodily injury, so the charge should be thrown out and should just be a simple assault even at a preliminary hearing where there's a relatively lower standard than at a trial. 

In terms of sufficiency for the other statutes, there can be challenges to what the defendant actually intended to do. With the law enforcement, aggravated assault - It can't just be resisting arrest, it can't be flailing around trying not to be taken into custody. Even if a police officer ends up with some bruising, that has to be the defendant's goal and had to either be intentional or knowing. It can't just be something that happened because of reckless conduct. So that could be a defense to the aggravated assault as a felony of the second degree charge, and then there's also sufficiently defenses for the bodily injury with a deadly weapon type of aggravated assault, which can be challenging whether or not it was really a deadly weapon. You see a lot of felony two aggravated assaults where the prosecution and the police, they're never really quite sure what kind of weapon was involved. 

Maybe it was a screwdriver, maybe the defendant was wearing a ring that led to a large cut. A deadly weapon has a very specific definition, which means it's either a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded. It's something that is a weapon like a knife. Otherwise, when it's some sort of random object, if it's a pen, a screwdriver, a plate, something that the defendant just grabbed, then it has to be used in a manner which was calculated to or likely to produce serious, uh, to produce death or serious bodily injury. So if an object is grabbed in the course of the fight, it is not automatically a deadly weapon. There has to be something about the object that makes it particularly deadly like a knife or a gun, or it has to be the way in which it was used. Sufficiency is often a potential defense in these types of cases, but there are also the other types of defenses that come in with, with any criminal case. 

Aggravated Assault can be a charge for a shooting, in which case the defenses could be misidentification. That comes down to the credibility of the witnesses. Did the witnesses really point out the right person? There can be credibility defenses - are the witnesses telling the truth about what they saw or the truth about their injuries. Are they telling the truth that the defendant really tried to do this? And then there are other defenses that are, that are really case specific. That would be speedy trial defenses. The defendant is brought to trial fast enough. They're going to be motions to suppress evidence if the defendant is stopped by the police or questioned illegally without Miranda rights or questioned as part of an illegal stop. These are all potential defenses to aggravated assault charges and potential defenses in any case, because there's always the right to a jury, there's the right to a trial with a judge if you choose to go that route. 

And then there are also the constitutional defenses such as the right to a speedy trial, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to Miranda warnings. Now, we have handled countless aggravated assault cases, countless attempted murder cases, both as trials with judges and with juries. We have won full acquittals in aggravated assault and attempted murder cases. And if you were dealing with any type of assault charge or any type of criminal charge, we can help. Our criminal defense attorneys offer a free 15 minute criminal defense strategy session to each potential client. So, call us at 267-225-2545 discuss your case today.