Pittsburgh Assault Lawyer
Simple assault and its more serious variation aggravated assault are crimes of physical violence in which the victim doesn’t die as a result of the violence. If death resulted, the charge would be murder or manslaughter.
As violent crimes go, simple assault is treated as a relatively minor offense, by both the law and general community values. Many people lose their tempers occasionally and lash out in ways that amount to simple assault, but it’s still important to hire a good Pittsburgh assault lawyer to ensure your case is properly handled.
Even this minor offense, however, carries criminal penalties and leaves you with a criminal record if you are convicted.
Pennsylvania Law on Simple Assault
Simple assault is a broad charge in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, it encompasses five very different behaviors:
- Attempting to cause bodily injury
- Actually causing bodily injury with behavior that is intentional, knowing, or reckless
- Actually causing bodily injury by negligent use of a deadly weapon
- Attempting to cause someone to fear that he will imminently suffer a serious bodily injury by physically menacing that person
- Penetrating a law enforcement officer, correctional officer or employee, or a mental hospital employee with a hypodermic needle during an arrest or a search, if the action is intentional or knowing
All the above are second degree misdemeanors, unless:
- Raised to a first degree misdemeanor because the victim was a child under 12 years of age by an adult 21 years of age or older
- Raised to a first degree misdemeanor because the victim was a sports official and the assault occurred during the sporting event, or because of the victim’s actions as a sorts official
- Lowered to a third degree misdemeanor because the victim had mutually consented to a fight
Generally speaking, an assault in Pennsylvania is defined as the imminent apprehension of harm, that may, but does not require actual physical harm. There are two types of assault in Pennsylvania: the most serious being Aggravated Assault, which is classified as a first or second degree felony; and the least serious is Simple Assault, which is, with a couple of exceptions, classified as a second degree misdemeanor.
In Pennsylvania, a person is guilty of Simple Assault if he/she:
- Attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person;
- Negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon;
- Attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or
- Conceals or attempts to conceal a hypodermic needle on his person or intentionally or knowingly penetrates a law enforcement officer or an officer or an employee of a correctional institution, county jail or prison, detention facility or mental hospital during the course of an arrest or any search of the person.
“Bodily injury” is defined as impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.
In Pennsylvania, a person is guilty of Aggravated Assault if he/she:
- Attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another or cases such injury intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. A first degree felony;
- Attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes serious bodily injury to any of a police officer, firefighter, probation or parole officer, sheriff or deputy, prosecutor, public defender, judge, or elected official, while in the performance of duty. A first degree felony ;
- Attempts to cause or intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon;
- Attempts to cause or intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injury to a person affiliated with an elementary or secondary publicly or privately funded educational institution or private school;
- Attempts by physical menace to put any police officer, firefighter, probation or parole officer, sheriff or deputy, prosecutor, public defender, judge or elected official in fear of imminent serious bodily injury while in the performance of duty;
- Uses tear or noxious gas, or an electric or electronic incapacitation device against any officer, firefights, probation or parole officer, sheriff or deputy, prosecutor, public defender, judge or elected official while acting within the scope of his/her employment;
- Attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to a child less than 6 years of age, by a person 18 years of age or older; or
- Attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause serious bodily injury to a child less than 13 years of age, by a person 18 years of age or older. A first degree felony.
“Serious Bodily Injury” is defined 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.
There are few defenses to an assault charge in Pennsylvania, but some of them may include:
- Lack of intent to harm;
- No bodily harm occurred;
- Mutual Consent
- Insanity; and
In general, Simple Assault is classified in Pennsylvania as a second degree misdemeanor having a maximum penalty of two years of imprisonment, a fine of $5,000.00, or both. However, in situations where a fight is entered into by “mutual consent” the offense level is reduced to a third degree misdemeanor having a maximum penalty of one year of imprisonment, a fine of $2,500.00, or both. Significantly, when the act is against a child under 12 years of age by a person 18 years of age or older, the offense level is increased to a first degree misdemeanor having a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment, a fine of $10,000.00, or both.
Due to the violent, serious and more extreme nature of Aggravated Assault conduct, they are classified as either first or second degree felonies, depending upon the applicable subsection of conduct involved. A first degree felony has a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment, a fine of $25,000.00, or both; while a second degree carries 10 years of imprisonment, a $20,000.00, fine or both.
In essence, the first degree felonies involve intentional, knowing or reckless conduct by an adult that manifests extreme indifference to the value of human life; or, involves law enforcement officers, first responders, individuals affiliated with agencies within the criminal justice system, or elected officials; or, results in serious bodily injury to a child less than 13 years of age. All other conduct falling within the definition of Aggravated Assault is classified as a second degree felony.
One definition of criminal harassment in Pennsylvania is subjecting or threatening to subject someone to physical contact such as kicks, shoves, and strikes for the intentional purpose of annoying, alarming, or harassing them.
Although not technically “assault,” it’s a similar crime. Under some circumstances it can be difficult to determine whether a given confrontation should be considered an assault or harassment.
Harassment is classified as a summary offense, a less serious charge than assault.
Hate Crimes or Ethnic Intimidation
Pennsylvania also prohibits what is known as “ethnic intimidation,” a form of what we generally call bias crimes or hate crimes. This offense applies when another crime has been committed because of malice toward any one of numerous groups including but not limited to ethnic identity. Ethnic intimidation can be charged if an assault is committed with malice toward the victim’s race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability, and so forth.
Ethnic intimidation is classed one degree higher than the underlying offense in most cases: a second degree misdemeanor assault committed on a racial basis, for example, is first degree ethnic intimidation. If the underlying offense was a summary offense, the ethnic intimidation charge is a third degree misdemeanor.
Penalties for Pittsburgh Assault Charges
The penalty you’re potentially facing depends on the class of the specific offense. Simple assault in which the victim mutually agreed to a fight is a summary offense, with a maximum of 90 days jail time. In most other of first offense simple assaults, the offense is a second degree misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 2 years, or a first degree misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 5 years.
Legal Defenses to Assault Charges
An experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney will always examine the behavior of the police and the prosecution to ensure that the rights of the defendant have not been violated. Specific defenses to simple assault charges vary tremendously, depending on the specific circumstances and the specific type of simple assault charged. It is always a defense that:
- The defendant was not the person who committed the assault (may be based on mistaken identity or the victim’s deliberate false claim)
- The defendant was legally justified in committing it (self-defense, etc.)
- The state failed to prove a necessary element of the charge (i.e., that there was, in fact, “bodily injury,” or intent, etc.)
Many of these defenses require considerable investigation. It takes time and experience to piece together the evidence needed to, for example, show that the alleged victim is lying about what happened.
Contact Our Pittsburgh Assault Lawyer for Legal Representation with the Best Outcome
Life is hard enough without a criminal record. And even the mildest penalties for assault carry the possibility of jail time ranging from 90 days to several years. Get the help of an experienced Pittsburgh assault lawyer with decades of experience successfully handling violent crime cases throughout Western Pennsylvania.
Call the law offices of Gary Gerson today. A highly experienced assault defense attorney with more than 25 years of experience to his credit, Gary will defend your rights, make sure the prosecution respects those rights, and see your case through to the end, whether that means a trial or a fair plea agreement. The sooner you call, the sooner Gary can begin to prepare your defense, so make that call as soon as you are arrested or even earlier—as soon as you feel that there is a possibility of an arrest. It may be possible to prevent charges from being filed, so pick up the phone and make that call now.