Philadelphia Aggravated Assault Lawyers | Fight Back Against Aggravated Assault Charges in PA and NJ
Award-Winning Criminal Defense Lawyers for Aggravated Assault Charges in Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers Zak T. Goldstein and Demetra Mehta have obtained countless successful outcomes for clients facing all types of assault offenses. Our defense lawyers handle both Aggravated Assault cases and Simple Assault cases in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties of Delaware, Chester, Bucks, and Montgomery. We have successfully represented clients charged with assaulting civilians and with aggravated assault on members of protected classes such as police, SEPTA employees, and medical personnel. We are understanding and experienced professionals who will use our skill and knowledge of the criminal justice system to help you get through this difficult time. If you are facing criminal charges for assault, we can help you begin planning a defense.
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Recent Victories in Serious Assault Cases
Our Philadelphia criminal attorneys have successfully moved to have serious charges downgraded or dismissed at preliminary hearings, obtained full acquittals at trial in Aggravated Assault cases, proven that the defendant acted in self-defense, and negotiated favorable resolutions for our clients. For example, Attorney Goldstein obtained a full acquittal following a jury trial in the case of Commonwealth v. I.N. In that case, the defendant was charged with felony Aggravated Assault for allegedly punching a police officer. After Attorney Goldstein cross examined the officer on all of the inconsistencies in the officer's testimony and prior statements, the jury was out for less than an hour before it returned with a full not guilty verdict for I.N.
Recently, in the case of Commonwealth v. B. F., Attorney Mehta obtained a full acquittal following a jury trial for a client in a second strike Aggravated Assault case which arose out of a physical altercation with a neighbor. B.F. was charged with hitting his neighbor in the head with a large, sharp stick, causing the neighbor to receive numerous stitches. Because the case would have been a second strike, B.F. was facing a 10-20 year mandatory minimum had he been convicted of the lead charge. However, Attorney Mehta was able to obtain a full acquittal from the jury on self-defense grounds.
Finally, in the case of Commonwealth v. L.W., Attorney Goldstein recently obtained a full acquittal in a jury trial on Attempted Murder and Aggravated Assault charges where the client was charged with shooting the complainant in the head. By exposing inconsistencies in the testimony and highlighting the lack of physical evidence obtained by the prosecution, Attorney Goldstein successfully convinced the jury that the Commonwealth's alleged eyewitnesses had fabricated the allegations against L.W., thereby convincing the jury to find L.W. not guilty of all charges.
If you are charged with Aggravated or Simple Assault, it is critical that you retain an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney immediately so that you can start building a defense before valuable evidence and witnesses are lost. Aggravated Assault is one of the most serious felony charges you can face under Pennsylvania law, and even Simple Assault has the potential to result in jail time due to the fact that it is considered a violent crime. Certain assault charges may even require a 50 year prison sentence. Further, allegations are particularly easy to fabricate, and prosecutors frequently bring assault charges against people who have done nothing wrong. Our defense attorneys will work tirelessly to challenge these serious allegations and prove your innocence.
Types of Assault Charges in Pennsylvania
- First Degree Felony Aggravated Assault - Typically Requires Serious Bodily Injury or Attempt to Cause Serious Bodily Injury
- Second Degree Felony Aggravated Assault - Generally Involves Bodily Injury with a Deadly Weapon or Attempt to Cause Bodily Injury with a Deadly Weapon
- Aggravated Assault on Law Enforcement and Other Protected Classes - A Felony of the Second Degree Which Requires Bodily Injury or an Attempt to Cause Bodily Injury on a Protected Class
- Misdemeanor Simple Assault - Involves Causing or Attempting to Cause Bodily Injury, threatening someone with Serious Bodily Injury or Bodily Injury, or Negligently Causing Serious Bodily Injury with a Deadly Weapon
Our dedicated, criminal lawyers will zealously defend you against any allegation of assault. This article focuses on Aggravated Assault involving serious bodily injury or an attempt to cause serious bodily injury and Aggravated Assault involving a deadly weapon. We have also written on the defenses to Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault on Police and Prison Guards.
When is Assault a Felony in Pennsylvania?
Aggravated Assault is always a felony. However, it may be a felony of the first degree or a felony of the second degree depending on the conduct alleged and the type of victim. In general, assault is a felony when the assault involves either an attempt to cause or the causation of serious bodily injury, the use of a deadly weapon, or when the alleged victim is a member of a protected class such a police officer, medical professional, or transit employee (SEPTA) who is on the job.
First Degree Felony Aggravated Assault
The most serious type of assault is first degree felony Aggravated Assault. In order to obtain a conviction under this statute, prosecutors must show:
The defendant specifically attempted to cause serious bodily injury and failed, or
- The defendant caused serious bodily injury that the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
It is not enough for the Commonwealth to show only that the complainant suffered serious injuries because the injuries could have occurred by accident, through negligence, or through bad luck in a situation in which the defendant intended to cause only minor injuries.
Where the Commonwealth brings charges based on an attempt to cause serious bodily injury, the prosecution will attempt to show that the defendant tried to cause serious bodily injury and failed. For example, if the defendant shot at someone and missed, then the prosecution could potentially show an Aggravated Assault. However, even in a case in which serious bodily injury has actually occurred, the prosecution still must be able to show that the accused acted with the necessary level of intent. Because of this elevated intent requirement, in many cases where serious injuries have occurred, it may be possible to have the lead offense dismissed if the injury that occurred was unexpected or far more severe than what the defendant should have expected to happen.
For example, in the case of Commonwealth v. Alexander, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that one punch to a complainant that results in a broken nose or even worse should often be reduced to simple assault because a person would not normally expect to severely injure someone else with just one punch. Unless there is some evidence that the defendant was significantly bigger or that the complainant was particularly vulnerable to a punch, the Commonwealth will likely have difficulty proving the necessary intent in this type of case.
What Are The Defenses to Aggravated Assault Charges?
If you are charged with felony one Aggravated Assault, we can help you put together a strong defense. Depending on the case, there are a number of potential defenses to these charges, and our Philadelphia defense lawyers have had great success in fighting this charge both in front of judges and juries.
Sufficiency of the Evidence and Credibility of the Complainant
On many occasions, we have also been able to show that even where serious injuries occurred, the client did not intend to cause those injuries and so should have been charged only with simple assault. Additionally, in many cases where serious injuries did not occur, we have been able to successfully use our cross examination skills to show the judge or jury that the complainant was exaggerating or simply not telling the truth and that the defendant had not actually tried to inflict serious bodily injury.
Many defendants who have been charged with Aggravated Assault have been overcharged because seriously bodily injury is something more than just some bruising or pain. Serious bodily injury has been defined by the legislature 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." For this reason, Aggravated Assault should not be charged when the defendant has done nothing more than engage in and/or win a routine fight. Pennsylvania courts have routinely described Aggravated Assault as "the functional equivalent of a murder in which, for some reason, death fails to occur.” However, the Aggravated Assault statute does not necessarily require the prosecution to show that the defendant used a weapon.
If you are charged with Aggravated Assault, it is critical that you retain experienced criminal defense counsel immediately. It is very likely that a delay in investigating the case will lead to potential witnesses disappearing and helpful evidence being lost. This is especially true in cases of self-defense because self-defense cases often come down to the word of the defendant against the word of the complainant. Under Pennsylvania law, the defense of justification is potentially available in every case. Justification means that the harm or evil sought to be prevented by the actor is greater than the harm or evil which the law attempts to prevent. It is this principle which supports the defense of self-defense in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, "the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion."
In most cases, the defendant does not have any obligation to testify or present any evidence of any kind. If the Commonwealth cannot meet its burden, then the court must acquit the defendant even if the defendant did not produce any evidence. Self-defense cases are different because an affirmative defense of self-defense creates a unique evidentiary burden for the defendant. The defendant will not receive a self-defense jury instruction unless the defendant introduces some evidence of self-defense. Although it is normally the Commonwealth's burden to prove guilt, Pennsylvania law places the burden on the defendant to produce some evidence of self-defense before that defense can be argued to a judge or jury.
Ways to Prove Self-Defense in Assault Cases
Although the law places this burden on the defendant, there are a number of different ways that the defendant could introduce some evidence of self-defense into a case. First, the defense may have video surveillance or eyewitness testimony which could show that the complainant started the fight. Second, the defense could call the defendant to testify in order to show that the defendant acted in self-defense. Third, in some cases, it is possible to use cross examination of the complainant or other Commonwealth witnesses to show that it was actually the complainant who threw the first punch and required the defendant to act in self-defense. Given the defendant's burden to produce some evidence in a self-defense case, it is extremely important for an assault defendant to retain a criminal defense lawyer immediately so that lawyer can begin looking for witnesses and surveillance video which could support a self-defense claim.
The Burden of Proof for Self-Defense Cases
The defendant is not required to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the defendant is required only to produce some evidence from which the fact finder could determine that the defendant acted in self-defense. Once the defendant introduces some evidence of self-defense, the burden shifts back to the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth's exact burden depends on whether the defendant used deadly force or non-deadly force. In cases where the defendant used deadly force, the Commonwealth can rebut self defense by showing either that the defendant violated a duty to retreat, that the defendant did not reasonably believe he was in danger of death or serious bodily injury, or that the accused provoked or continued the use of force longer than necessary. In criminal cases where the defendant did not use deadly force, the Commonwealth must show that the defendant was the first aggressor or that the defendant used excessive force.
Self-defense cases are complicated, and they often come down to the state of mind of the defendant. Therefore, in many self-defense cases, the defendant will testify in order to show that he or she reasonably believed that he or she was in danger of death or serious bodily injury. However, self-defense is an absolute defense to felony Aggravated Assault and other forms of Assault. Therefore, if there is some evidence that the defendant acted in self-defense, and the Commonwealth cannot prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant must be acquitted by the judge or jury.
If you are charged with assault, you should not delay in consulting with an attorney. Given the significant jail time that could accompany a conviction for Aggravated Assault, it could be a matter of hours that makes the difference - finding the surveillance video before it is deleted or the witnesses before they disappear could be the difference between an acquittal and a conviction that results in decades in prison. When preparing a defense in an assault case, we regularly rely on skilled investigators in order to locate exculpatory evidence and potential defense witnesses.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Aggravated Assault Convictions
When Aggravated Assault is charged as a Felony of the First Degree, it is a "strike" crime, meaning that it counts for purposes of the mandatory minimums under Pennsylvania's three strikes law. When the defendant is sentenced for a first strike, there is no mandatory minimum under Pennsylvania law. However, if the defendant is convicted of a second or third strike, then the defendant will face a substantial mandatory minimum at sentencing. This could range from 10-20 years in state prison for a second strike to 25-50 years in prison for a third. If the sentencing judge finds that 25 years is not sufficient, then the sentencing judge may sentence a defendant who is convicted of a third strike to life in prison even though the ordinary maximum sentence for an F1 Aggravated Assault is 20 years in prison. Even when a mandatory minimum sentence does not apply, the recommended sentence called for by the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines will be extremely high. This is particularly true where the Commonwealth can prove that serious bodily injury actually occurred or that the defendant used a deadly weapon in the commission of the assault.
The Sentencing Guidelines for Aggravated Assault in PA
Even when there is no mandatory minimum, these charges can carry significant jail time upon conviction. Aggravated Assault carries one of the highest possible Offense Gravity Scores under the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines, and convictions often require the use of the deadly weapon used or possessed matrix if the assault was committed with the use of a deadly weapon. If the defendant is convicted of Aggravated Assault and actually caused serious bodily injury as defined in the statute, the Offense Gravity Score would be 11. With the deadly weapon used sentencing matrix, the guidelines for someone with no prior record would be 54-72 months in jail plus or minus twelve months. This means that upon coviction, the defendant could easily receive a sentence of 5 or more years in state prison as the guideline range suggests to the judge what a reasonable minimum sentence would be.
Although the Offense Gravity Score is very high for the first degree felony if the court finds that the defendant caused serious bodily injury, the guidelines are much lower for a second degree felony charge or if the charges can be reduced to misdemeanors. Accordingly, these cases are extremely serious and require a strong defense plan from the beginning in order to avoid significant jail time. One of the best defenses in these types of cases is to move for the charge to be held only as a second degree felony or misdemeanor at the preliminary hearing as the potential consequences in terms of the jail time recommended by the setencing guidelines become far less serious.
Second Degree Felony Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
We are also able to help with cases of second degree felony Aggravated Assault. It is charged as a felony of the second degree when the defendant is charged with causing or attempting to cause bodily injury to someone while using a deadly weapon or something that could be used as a deadly weapon. For example, hitting someone with a gun (but not shooting them) could constitute a felony of the second degree. This type of charge is most often seen when the defendant is alleged to have hit someone using some type of ordinary object as a weapon and the complainant did not suffer serious bodily injury. Likewise, throwing a heavy object at someone and missing or cutting someone with a knife in a non vital part of the body could result in second degree felony Assault charges.
Defenses to Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Our criminal attorneys are able to help in all types of assault cases. Many of the common defenses to Aggravated Assault as a first degree felony also apply when prosecutors bring charges which are graded as a second degree felony. For example, self-defense or the defense of others is still a justification for the use of force in second degree felony cases. Likewise, we are often able to use cross examination or evidence obtained through our investigation to show that the complainant is not telling the truth or that the police have arrested the wrong person.
In addition to the above defenses, we are often able to show that the object allegedly used in the assault was not a deadly weapon as defined by the Aggravated Assault statute. The statute requires that the defendant “attempt[ed] to cause or intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.” Further, the statute defines a deadly weapon as “[a]ny 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.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 2301. Therefore, in order to obtain a conviction, the Commonwealth must show that the defendant either caused bodily injury with a deadly weapon or attempted to cause bodily injury with a deadly weapon and failed to do so.
In many cases in which some type of object was used in an assault, the prosecution will charge the second degree felony regardless of whether the object involved was actually a deadly weapon. When the object is a firearm or knife, then of course, it is a deadly weapon. However, when the object is not a firearm, cutting instrument, or something designed to be a weapon, the object is not a deadly weapon unless it is used in such a way that it is “calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.” Given the limitations provided by this definition, it becomes clear that just because something is used to cause bodily injury does not make it a deadly weapon. Instead, when the object used was not something that would traditionally be defined as a weapon, the focus is on how the object was used. Therefore, in cases in which serious bodily injury did not actually occur, our assault lawyers may be able to show that the object was not used in a manner designed to cause serious bodily injury, which would lead to the dismissal of the felony charge.
Although second degree Aggravated Assault is not a serious as the first degree felony charge, it is still a serious felony which is punishable by a significant sentence of state incarceration. If you are facing any type of assault charge, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to start building your defense.
Contact a Philadelphia, PA Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
We have successfully defended many clients charged with all types of assault. The most important thing to do if you are facing criminal 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 a violent crime 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.