In Pennsylvania, assault is a crime that can be a misdemeanor or a felony. A person commits an assault when he inflicts (or attempts to inflict) a physical injury on another person.
Felony assault, known as aggravated assault, includes inflicting serious bodily injury on another (or attempting to do so), assaulting someone with a deadly weapon, and assaults against certain protected public officials or employees. The sections below explain these elements of aggravated assault in detail.
For information on simple (misdemeanor) assault, see Pennsylvania Assault and Battery Laws.
Causing Serious Bodily Injury
Aggravated assault is intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing serious bodily injury to another (or attempting to do so), under circumstances that show an extreme indifference to human life.
Knowing or intentional acts
To prove that a person committed an aggravated assault, the prosecutor must convince the jury that the defendant acted in one of the following ways:
- Knowingly. People act knowingly when they are aware of the consequences of their acts, or
- Recklessly. People act recklessly when they consciously disregard the dire consequences of their acts. A person can be deemed to have acted recklessly when a reasonable person in the same situation would have been aware of the risks associated with the conduct.
Serious bodily injury
Serious bodily injury causes serious, permanent loss, impairment, or disfigurement; or creates a substantial risk of death. Anytime your actions are likely to cause death or serious injury, you are showing an extreme indifference to human life.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 302, 2301, 2702.)
A deadly weapon is one that could cause death or serious injury. Guns and knives are deadly weapons, but other items can qualify, too. For example, a baseball bat or beer bottle can be a deadly weapon if it is used to seriously hurt someone.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 2301, 2702.)
Public Officials and Employees
Pennsylvania elevates assaults against certain public officials and employees from simple assaults to aggravated assaults, in the following situations.
- intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing serious bodily injury (or attempting to do so) while the victim was performing public duties or working
- intentionally or knowingly causing mere bodily injury (or attempting to do so) while the victim was performing public duties or working
- attempting to put a public official or employee in fear of imminent harm by way of physical menace, and
- using gas or an electric incapacitation device (such as a TASER) against a public official or employee.
Public officials and employees who are entitled to protection under Pennsylvania’s aggravated assault law include:
- teachers, school board members, and school employees, whether the school is public or private
- police officers, law enforcement officers, and sheriffs
- correctional officers and parole officers
- private detectives
- firefighters and emergency medical services employees
- judges, district attorneys, attorneys general, and public defenders
- employees of the Department of Environmental Protection
- employees of county children’s service agencies
- public utility employees, and
- state officials and legislators.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 2702.)
Aggravated assault that does not involve serious bodily injury is a second degree felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
If the defendant causes serious bodily injury or attempts to cause serious bodily injury, aggravated assault is a first degree felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 1103, 2702.)
Seeking Legal Advice and Representation
Aggravated assault is a very serious crime. Conviction could result in the imposition of a lengthy prison sentence and a very large fine. The consequences of these charges can vary widely based on the facts of your case, and the attitudes of the judge and prosecutor assigned to your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be familiar with the local judges and prosecutors and can tell you how they are likely to treat your case. A good attorney can set out your options and help you prepare the best defense so that you can achieve the best possible outcome, which could be dismissal of the charges, an acquittal, or the avoidance of a lengthy sentence.