An assault with a deadly weapon occurs when an attacker accompanies a physical attack with a physical object capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death, by virtue of its design or construction. Because the use of a dangerous object creates a risk of such serious consequences, all states classify assault with a deadly weapon as a felony. (Judges and lawyers often refer to the crime as “ADW.”)
“Deadly weapon” generally refers to a wide range of objects that can inflict mortal or great bodily harm—for example a car or a golf club. Some states consider knives and guns as "deadly weapons per se," which means that the prosecutor need not present evidence of their ability to cause mortal or serious injury. And some instruments, such as pocketknives, shoes, canes, walking sticks, and stones, while not deadly by design, can become "deadly weapons" depending on how the defendant has used them.
Even parts of the human body can be deadly weapons, such as feet, knees, arms, and teeth (people that are aware of their HIV+ status, who use their teeth to bite someone else or have unprotected sex with another person, may be charged with ADW or aggravated sexual assault).
Because a conviction of assault with a deadly weapon is a felony, defendants always face the possibility of state prison. The sentence length varies from state to state. Judges may also impose fines and other consequences. Often, the sentence will depend on the actual serious bodily injuries that were inflicted or that could have been inflicted on the victim during the crime. In addition, other factors such as a prior record of assault or violent crimes will be taken into consideration. Please see table below for list of penalties by state.
In many states, judges have a wide degree of discretion when it comes to imposing a sentence for ADW. Factors such as the actual injury to the victim (or lack thereof), the relative ages of the victim and defendant, whether the defendant has a prior criminal record, and the strength of the prosecution's evidence will all affect the ultimate sentence. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will know how to make the most of evidence that supports a lesser sentence, and they may even be able to convince prosecutors to drop the charges to a less-serious misdemeanor assault. For these reasons, most defendants will need the assistance of an attorney familiar not only with the offense and any possible defenses, but someone who knows how these cases are typically treated by the prosecutors and judges who will handle the case.
Find your state below to learn about the laws and penalties associated with assault and battery and assault with a deadly weapon.