Assault Laws and Penalties in Arizona

By , Attorney · UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law
Updated June 02, 2023

Under Arizona law, an assault can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Felony assaults are called aggravated assaults in Arizona. Misdemeanor assaults are considered less serious than aggravated assaults, but some misdemeanors are more serious than others.

Misdemeanor Assault in Arizona

In Arizona, misdemeanor assault can be either a class 1, class 2, or class 3 misdemeanor, with class 1 being the most serious.

Class 1 Misdemeanor Assault

A person commits a class 1 misdemeanor assault by intentionally or knowingly causing physical injury to another person.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-105, 13-1203 (2023).)

What Constitutes "Physical Injury"?

Physical injury is any "impairment" of someone's physical condition, even if temporary. Arizona courts have interpreted this definition to mean "any injury to another." Physical injury can include a bruise or even just a painful red mark resulting from hitting or kicking someone, for example.

(State v. George, 206 Ariz. 436 (2003).)

"Intentionally" and "Knowingly" Causing Injury

Intentionally causing a physical injury is just how it sounds—basically, the person intends to physically injure the other person.

But "knowingly" causing injury is a bit different, and doesn't require an intent that the victim be hurt. People do something "knowingly" when they deliberately do anything described as criminal by the assault statute. So, striking a person and causing physical harm (which is prohibited by the assault statute) is a crime because it's prohibited by the assault statute: So long as the person deliberately committed the physical act that caused the injury, they're considered to have acted knowingly, even if they didn't intend the resulting injury.

Importantly, a person can act knowingly without being aware that their actions are unlawful. This means that ignorance of the law is not a defense. For example, pushing someone can be a criminal assault even if the person didn't know it was a crime to push someone.

Class 2 Misdemeanor Assault

A person commits a class 2 misdemeanor assault in either of two ways:

  • by recklessly causing physical injury to someone, or
  • by intentionally placing someone in "reasonable apprehension" of imminent physical injury.

Acting "Recklessly"

People who act recklessly are aware of and consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk created by their actions. The behavior must constitute a gross (extreme) deviation from what a reasonable person would do. For example, throwing a beer bottle in a crowded bar might constitute reckless behavior, even if the person didn't intend that anyone would be hit with the bottle.

Placing Another in Fear

It's possible to commit an assault without actually touching the victim. For example, intentionally drawing one's fist back and threatening to punch someone can be an assault, if it makes the person fear being punched. Importantly, the prosecution must prove that the defendant's actions would create fear in a reasonable person in the victim's position. If the victim was afraid in circumstances where the average person wouldn't be, there wouldn't be an assault.

Class 3 Misdemeanor Assault

A person commits a class 3 misdemeanor assault by knowingly touching another person with the intent to injure, insult, or provoke the person. For example, shoving a person to start a fight would constitute touching intended to provoke the other person.

While touching certainly includes direct physical contact, touching can also include using objects to make contact with someone. So, pushing someone with a cane or stick, or throwing objects at someone can be an assault. And in one case a court determined that pouring urine on another person constituted touching. In another case, pouring a substance into another person's drink, which the other person then consumed, also constituted touching.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Assault

Someone convicted of misdemeanor assault can face any or all of the following penalties:

  • Jail time. Penalties can include six months, four months, or 30 days in jail for class 1, class 2, and class 3 misdemeanors, respectively.
  • Fines. The Court can impose a fine up to $2,500, $750, or $500 for class 1, class 2, and class 3 misdemeanors, respectively.
  • Reimbursement of incarceration costs. The court can order any person sentenced to jail to reimburse the incarceration costs to the political subdivision that's responsible for the costs of the person's stay.
  • Probation. A person on probation regularly meets with a probation officer and fulfills other terms and conditions, such as maintaining employment and attending counseling.
  • Community service. Courts often include as a part of probation the requirement that the defendant work for a specified number of hours with court-approved organizations, such as charities.
  • Restitution. The court can order the defendant to pay restitution, which reimburses the victim for any costs associated with the offense, and can order the defendant to repay an organization that provides counseling, medical, or shelter services to the victim or other person injured by the offense.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-707, 13-802, 13-804.01 (2023).)

Aggravated Assault in Arizona

A person commits aggravated assault by committing misdemeanor assault plus one of the following:

  • causing serious physical injury
  • using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument
  • committing the assault by force that causes temporary but substantial disfigurement, temporary but substantial loss or impairment of any body part or organ, or a fracture of any body part
  • committing an assault while the victim is bound or restrained, or their capacity to resist is substantially impaired
  • committing an assault after entering a private home with the intent to commit assault
  • committing an assault on someone under 15 (by someone 18 or older)
  • committing the assault while violating a protective order
  • taking, or trying to control an officer's firearms, weapons, or implements (but not handcuffs)
  • committing an assault as an inmate or arrestee against a jail or prison employee, if the person knows or should know the victim is acting in their official capacity
  • committing the assault when the person knows or should know the victim is any of the following professionals engaged in their official duties:
    • a peace officer or someone acting at the officer's direction
    • a constable, or someone directed by the constable
    • a firefighter, fire investigator, fire inspector, emergency medical technician or paramedic, or anyone acting at their direction
    • a teacher or other school employee while on (or near) school property, or at another location while on school business
    • a health care practitioner (or a person acting on their behalf). This law doesn't apply if the person who commits the assault is seriously mentally ill or has Alzheimer's disease or dementia
    • a prosecutor or public defender
    • a code enforcement officer
    • a state or municipal park ranger, or
    • a judicial officer (like a judge).

Even if the victim is off-duty, the assault is aggravated if it's in response to the victim's on-duty actions. For example, waiting until a police officer is off-duty to punch him or her, in retaliation for a speeding ticket, would still be considered aggravated assault.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-105, 13-1204 (2023).)

What Constitutes Serious Physical Injury?

The definition of serious physical injury includes any physical injury that creates a reasonable risk of death, or causes serious and permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.

Serious physical injury requires more than a temporary impairment, even if the injury is substantial. For example, a push that causes someone to fall and suffer a sprain probably wouldn't qualify as serious bodily injury if the sprain healed normally.

Aggravated Assault With a Deadly Weapon in Arizona

As noted above, assault with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument is an aggravated assault in Arizona. A deadly weapon is anything designed for lethal use, including a firearm, even if it's unloaded. But the definition doesn't include a firearm that is permanently inoperable.

A dangerous instrument is anything that is used (or attempted or threatened to be used) in a way that makes it capable of causing death or serious physical injury. Oftentimes, if an object isn't inherently dangerous (unlike a gun or knife), a judge or jury must decide if the defendant used the object in a way that made it a dangerous instrument. For example, in one case, the court determined that a defendant's tennis shoe could be considered a dangerous instrument only if the prosecutor proved that the shoe caused greater or different injuries than would have been caused by a barefoot, or that the shoe had been wielded as a weapon.

Domestic Violence and Aggravated Assault

Domestic violence assaults involving strangulation and suffocation are aggravated if the perpetrator

  • intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes physical injury
  • intentionally places the victim in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury
  • or knowingly touches the victim with the intent to injure

For more information about domestic violence in Arizona, see Arizona Domestic Violence Laws.

Penalties for Aggravated Assault

Arizona classifies its various forms of aggravated assault as either class 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 felonies. Each class of felony is subject to a different sentencing range. The penalty ranges increase for dangerous offenses and for repeat offenders. Someone convicted of aggravated assault can be subjected to any or all of the following penalties:

  • Prison. Depending on the facts of a case, the term of imprisonment can vary tremendously (from one year to more than a decade in prison). The sentence may also depend on factors such as the victim's age and profession, the nature of the crime, and the defendant's criminal history.
  • Fines. The court can impose a fine of up to $150,000.
  • Sentencing alternatives. In some less serious aggravated assaults, the court might consider probation and community service instead of (or in addition to) imprisonment. As with any other crime, the court can also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-701 (2023).)

Get Legal Advice

If you're charged with assault or any other crime, you should contact an Arizona criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney should be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court based on the facts of your case, and can help you mount the strongest possible defense. They should also have a good idea of whether dismissal, diversion, probation, or a plea deal is possible.

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