Aggravated assault in Tennessee is a felony. A person commits aggravated assault if he:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes serious physical injury to another person
- intentionally or knowingly attempts to cause physical injury by strangulation
- is a parent or guardian of a child or a guardian of an adult and fails or refuses to protect the child or adult from an aggravated assault or aggravated child abuse
- intentionally or knowingly causes or attempts to cause bodily injury to another; or commits or attempts to commit an assault while under an order, diversion or probation agreement that prohibits such actions, or
- intentionally causes physical injury to a public employee or transit system worker (private or public) while the person is performing his duties. (Tenn. Code Ann. §39-13-102.)
In addition, anyone who commits a simple assault while using or displaying a deadly weapon has committed an aggravated assault. For information on misdemeanor (simple) assaults in Tennessee, which are less serious charges, see Simple Assault in Tennessee.
A reckless act is one that is committed, not necessarily with intent to harm another, but without regard for the outcome. Pushing someone out of the way in a crowd so that you can get through, without intending to injure the person, could be an assault if the person falls and is injured.
Serious Bodily Injury
Serious bodily injury is more than a minor injury like a cut, scrape, or bruise. It involves significant harm such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, or an injury requiring surgery or hospitalization.
A deadly weapon is an object that by definition is capable of or designed to cause death or serious bodily injury – for instance, a firearm, large hunting knife, or brass knuckles. An object that is not normally a weapon, but one that is used in an assault in a way likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, also can be considered a deadly weapon. for instance, a rope used to strangle someone or a metal pipe or baseball bat used to strike or attempt to strike someone are all dangerous weapons because of the manner in which they were used. The courts in Tennessee have ruled, however, that body parts like fists and feet are not deadly weapons.
An assault is a domestic assault in Tennessee if the offender and victim are family or household members – such as spouses or former spouses, adults related by blood or marriage, persons who live or have lived together or who are engaged or were engaged in a dating relationship or a sexual relationship. The penalties for domestic aggravated assault may be different than those for aggravated assault. For more information on domestic assault, see Domestic Violence Laws in Tennessee.
Penalties for Aggravated Assault
Aggravated assault in Tennessee involving intentional or knowing acts is a Class C felony.
Aggravated assault involving reckless acts is a Class D felony.
Aggravated assault involving failing to protect a child or protected adult from an aggravated assault or child abuse also is a Class C felony.
Aggravated assault against a public employee or transit worker is a Class A misdemeanor.
A Class C felony is punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison and a fine up $10,000.
A Class D felony is punishable by 2 to 12 years in prison and a fine up to $5000.
A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, a fine up to $2500, or both.
A person convicted of aggravated assault in Tennessee can be required to pay restitution, which involves reimbursing the victim for any expenses resulting from the crime, such as the cost of medical treatment or counseling or repair or replacement of damaged property.
Judicial Diversion, Suspended Sentence and Probation
Tennessee law provides certain alternatives to a prison or jail sentence for a person charged with or convicted of aggravated assault.
After a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty to an aggravated assault charge, and if the defendant has no prior felony convictions and no misdemeanor convictions for which jail time was imposed, the court may grant judicial diversion (also referred to as a deferred sentence). This means that the court postpones sentencing for a period of time on the condition that the defendant successfully complies with probation and certain other requirements, such as no new arrests or criminal offenses during the conditional period, completing psychological treatment, or doing volunteer work in the community. If the defendant satisfies all the court’s requirements, the court will discharge the defendant and dismiss the case. The arrest, diversion and dismissal will be part of the defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant fails to satisfy the court’s requirements, the court will impose a sentence and enter a conviction.
If the court suspends a sentence, the court imposes a prison sentence but allows the defendant to serve all or a portion of the time on probation rather than in jail or prison. The defendant must successfully complete probation and any other conditions the court imposes (defendants who fail to do so will be required to complete the sentence in prison). A person on supervised probation must meet with a probation officer and comply with conditions such as treatment, maintaining employment, curfews, drug tests, pay probation costs as required by the court, and avoiding any further criminal activity or arrests.
Pleas and Pre-Trial Options
If you are facing an aggravated assault charge in Tennessee, you'll benefit from having an attorney who can investigate the case and determine if you were wrongfully charged or if there are other grounds on which the case could be dismissed before trial. An attorney also may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor on your behalf, or prepare a defense and represent you at trial, if you believe you have been wrongly accused or if there are no reasonable plea options. Prosecutors may negotiate and agree to a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea or to the defendant pleading guilty to a different, less serious crime.
The Value of Good Representation
A conviction for aggravated assault becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A convicted felon loses the right to vote and carry firearms and can lose certain professional licenses. A conviction for a violent felony – or even a misdemeanor – also can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment.
Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.