In most states, assault and battery are two different charges. The difference between these two charges, in most states, is that assault doesn’t necessarily include any injuries caused to the victim; the looming threat of violence over an encounter could be considered an assault. Battery, on the other hand, has an actual act of violence inflicted on the victim.

In Pennsylvania, though, we don’t separate assault and battery into different crimes. Battery, as most states define it, would be an act of assault. However, there are different levels to an assault charge, and there is a big difference between a simple assault and an aggravated assault.

Today we’re going to explore how assault charges work here in Pennsylvania. We’ll start by examining what constitutes a simple assault and its potential consequences before we move into an overview of aggravated assault. From there, we’ll look at some defenses that can be used against an assault charge in Pennsylvania.

What is a Simple Assault?

Simple assault is a misdemeanor charge in Pennsylvania. As its name implies, this is a lesser version of assault. What that typically means is that a simple assault charge often doesn’t cover instances where real physical actions are involved. Some minor physical actions may be present in a simple assault case, but often they focus on a perpetrator causing a victim to be afraid for their person.

A simple assault may involve an injury, but many don’t. Some physical actions which could fall under simple assault include groping an individual, grabbing them, restraining them, punching them, or other similar actions. There may also be a weapon involved in a simple assault, as the law does not distinguish assaults based on the presence of a weapon.

Because it is a misdemeanor, simple assault may not seem like a big deal. But a simple assault conviction can make it difficult to find work or housing. It can also result in a prison sentence of up to two years. If a simple assault stems from a fight between multiple parties, then the maximum sense is only one year rather than two. However, if the victim of a simple assault is a child under the age of twelve, the prison sentence could be up to five years.

What is an Aggravated Assault?

While a simple assault may not involve any actual violence, an aggravated assault always does. An aggravated assault is an assault wherein the victim suffers a serious bodily injury. There may be injury involved in a simple assault, but these injuries would not be considered serious.

Bodily injury, as defined by Pennsylvania law, is an injury that causes impairment of the physical condition through pain. But a serious injury is one that leaves a permanent disfigurement or impairment of bodily function or that puts the victim at substantial risk of death.

We mentioned above that a simple assault is not upgraded to aggravated assault when a weapon is present. This is because the presence of a weapon is not, by itself, an injury that causes a substantial risk of death. However, if a weapon is used to cause physical injury as part of an assault, then it is much easier to have the charge upgraded to aggravated assault because a weapon is much more likely to put a victim at risk of death.

As a violent crime, aggravated assault carries stronger penalties than simple assault does. Aggravated assault is often charged as a Class 2 felony, which could see you spend up to a decade behind bars. Aggravated assault can be charged as a Class 1 felony in cases where the perpetrator acted with extreme indifference to human life. A Class 1 felony could result in up to twenty years in prison.

What Are the Defenses Against an Assault Charge?

With such steep consequences for assault charges, it is vital that you treat your accusations seriously. The best thing to do is to work with an experienced assault attorney that can help you to investigate the circumstances of your incident, gather evidence, speak to witnesses, and build a solid defense.

There are a number of different defenses that may be used against an assault charge. The hardest part of defending yourself is determining the best way to prove your innocence. Sometimes the most straightforward answer isn’t always the best, as there may not be the necessary evidence to back up that particularly defensive strategy. Again, it is best to work with an experienced attorney who can answer your questions and offer advice tailored to your unique needs.

Some defenses that could be utilized against an assault charge include:

  • A Lack of Evidence: You are innocent unless you are proven guilty, and to be proven guilty, it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the act you are accused of. A lack of evidence means that reasonable doubt should still be maintained.
  • An Alibi: If you are saying that you didn’t commit the assault, then the best way to prove that is with an alibi. If there is somebody that can place you in a different area at the time of the crime, then this could break the case against you. Photos and video evidence that shows you weren’t there are the strongest pieces of evidence.
  • Self-Defense: If you are being attacked by somebody and have no other options, then you are legally allowed to defend yourself with physical force. This may seem like an assault to somebody that doesn’t have the full picture of the event, but if it can be shown, and if the physical force you used was reasonable, then a self-defense argument may be the way to go.
  • Mistaken Identity: A lot of assaults happen at night, and especially after the bars let out. This means it is hard to see, and alcohol may dull the victim’s senses. These conditions are ripe for somebody to mistake your identity. There are even cases where an individual who tried to help an assault victim ended up falsely charged for the crime.

What Should I Do Next?

If you have been charged with assault, then you should reach out to an experienced criminal lawyer. They’ll answer your questions, offer their advice, and help you through every step of this troubling experience.