Simple and Aggravated Assault in Georgia

Learn how Georgia defines and punishes assault and aggravated assault.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 15, 2024

In Georgia, simple assault crimes typically involve attempted and threatened harm. Aggravated assault, on the other hand, may be charged when harm is attempted, threatened, or caused. Read on to learn how Georgia law defines and punishes assault crimes.

What Is Considered Simple Assault in Georgia?

A person commits an assault in Georgia by:

  • attempting to harm or injure another, or
  • placing another in fear of imminent harm.

Examples of assault can include throwing a punch at someone and missing, pulling back one's fist in anticipation of striking them, or angrily walking toward another and threatening to beat the daylights out of them.

When assault charges are based on threats and fear of harm, the victim's fear must be reasonable and the threatened harm must be imminent. Threats of future harm don't count as assault.

(O.C.G.A. § 16-5-20 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Simple Assault in Georgia?

Simple assault carries misdemeanor penalties in Georgia, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, if the defendant commits the assault against certain protected victims or as a hate crime, the crime increases to a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.

Protected victims include family and household members, public school employees, and pregnant women. It's also a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature to commit an assault in a public transit vehicle or station (such as a bus or train). This misdemeanor level carries the same possible one-year jail sentence but increases the maximum fine to $5,000.

Hate crimes carry an enhanced misdemeanor penalty of 6 to 12 months' incarceration and a $5,000 fine. Georgia considers simple assault to be a hate crime when a defendant targets a victim due to their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability.

(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-20, 17-10-17 (2024).)

What Is Aggravated Assault in Georgia?

Assault charges increase to aggravated assault when the defendant commits the crime:

  • with a deadly weapon or instrument that causes or could cause serious bodily injury or strangulation
  • with the intent to murder, rape, or rob, or
  • by discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle towards people.

Deadly weapons or instruments can be objects designed to cause harm, such as firearms, knives, or brass knuckles, or objects used in a manner to inflict harm, including hands and feet, steel-toed boots, a wood plank, hammer, pepper spray, plastic bag, or vehicle. It's up to the jury to decide whether the object and how it was used fall under the definition.

Serious bodily injury isn't defined by statute, but cases suggest it's more than minor visible wounds. Courts have upheld jury verdicts finding serious bodily injuries when a victim suffered severe lacerations, broken bones, gunshot wounds, head injuries, and bruising all over one's body. (When bodily injuries result, battery charges could also be filed.)

What Are the Penalties for Aggravated Assault in Georgia?

Aggravated assault is a felony. The standard sentence carries one to 20 years of possible prison time. Stiffer penalties apply when a person commits aggravated assault against an individual in a protected class or when other aggravating circumstances are involved. Georgia reserves the harshest penalties for aggravated assault involving intent to rape.

Protected Classes of Victims

Committing an aggravated assault against a victim in a protected class raises the lower end of the possible sentence from one year to three or five years. The maximum remains at 20 years.

Examples of protected classes of victims include:

  • elderly victims (age 65 and older)
  • family and household members
  • healthcare workers
  • judges, attorneys, and court employees
  • school staff and students
  • public transit operators, workers, and riders, and
  • public safety officers (police, first responders, correctional officers, and probation officers).

If the aggravated assault involves the discharge of a firearm against a public safety officer, the defendant will face a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence.

Aggravated Assault Hate Crimes

Aggravated assault committed as a hate crime carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Georgia considers aggravated assault to be a hate crime when a defendant targets a victim due to their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability.

Aggravated Assault With Intent to Rape

A defendant convicted of aggravated assault with intent to rape can face up to 50 years in prison if the victim was younger than 14. For defendants with prior sexual felony convictions, the judge can sentence them to life in prison.

(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-19, 16-5-21, 17-10-17 (2024).)

Defenses to Assault and Aggravated Assault Charges in Georgia

A person facing assault or aggravated assault charges can fight the charges in several ways, including by poking holes in the prosecution's case or by raising an affirmative defense.

Self-defense. A defendant might claim self-defense or defense of others if the alleged victim started the altercation or was about to. To be successful, the defendant can only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to prevent the threatened injuries. (O.C.G.A. § 16-3-21 (2024).)

Reasonable doubt. The defense might also try to poke holes in the prosecution's case by arguing the prosecution failed to prove the required intent or aggravating factors. In this case, the defense might be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing assault or aggravated assault charges in Georgia, contact a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you understand the charges, what's at stake, and how the system works.

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