Aggravated Assault vs. Assault
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the difference between assault (or misdemeanor assault) and aggravated assault?
Assault is defined by the Arizona statutes as follows:
- Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person; or
- Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury; or
- Knowingly touching another person with the intent to injure, insult or provoke such person.
ARS 13-1203 Assault; classification (Arizona Revised Statutes (2016 Edition) (http://www.azleg.gov.)
In brief, an assault occurs when a person intentionally injures another person. The injury can occur by being struck with a fist, tripping a person or any number of ways. Also, if a person has a reasonable fear of imminent physical injury, an assault has occurred. For example, Joe has committed an assault if he gets in Lou’s face, points his finger at him and yells, “I am going to beat your butt here and now.” Assaults are punished as misdemeanors.
Aggravated assaults differ from assault in the degree of injury that is caused and who is assaulted. Police officers, teachers, correctional officers, and firefighters are a partial list of the professions that receive special protection from the law when they are carrying out their duties. Assault on the aforementioned class of people constitutes aggravated assault.
The degree of the injury can also cause an aggravated assault charge to be filed. For example, if Joe pushes Lou and walks off, Joe has committed an assault. However, if Lou falls and Joe kicks him causing a serious injury or disfigurement, such as knocking a tooth out, then Joe has committed an aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is a felony.
Q: I pointed a gun at someone, can I be charged with aggravated assault?
Yes, Arizona Statute 13-204 A-2 provides that using a deadly weapon constitutes an aggravated assault. Inarguably, a gun is a deadly weapon. Therefore, if a person intentionally points a gun at another person without legal justification, that person has committed aggravated assault.
Q: Can a deadly weapon be something other than a knife or gun?
Yes, a deadly weapon is defined as an instrument that is designed for lethal use. For example, flare guns, bow and arrow, and explosives are considered to be deadly weapons. Also, items such as scissors can be considered deadly weapons depending on how they are used.
Q: I hit a police officer and did not know he was a police officer. Do I have a defense to aggravated assault?
You may have a defense. A person is guilty of aggravated assault if the person assaults someone he or she knows or has reason to know is a peace officer. Therefore, if you did not know or have reason to know the person you hit was a police officer, you are not guilty of aggravated assault, assuming no other aggravating factors are present. For example, assume Lou is an off-duty police officer sitting at a bar drinking a beer. Joe and Lou get into a heated discussion on who is the best quarterback of all time. Joe does not know Lou. Joe pokes Lou in the chest and insults him. Joe may be guilty of assault, but he is not guilty of aggravated assault because he did not know that Lou was a police officer. Also, Lou was not performing his duties as a police officer, and Joe did not attack Lou because Lou was a police officer.
Q: Can an aggravated assault charge be reduced to a misdemeanor assault charge?
Yes, but that is a decision that the district attorney would make in negotiations with the defendant or the defendant’s attorney.
Q: If the district attorney offers to reduce the charges from aggravated assault to misdemeanor assault, should I take the plea?
Getting a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor is a good thing. However, the decision to accept or reject a plea should be carefully considered. This decision should be made in consultation with your attorney. Issues you should discuss with your attorney include the evidence the state has against you, what defenses are available, how a misdemeanor conviction and or a felony will affect your life, and the chance of winning at trial.
Q: Someone got in my wife’s face and threatened to hit her. I hit the person who threatened my wife. Do I have a defense?
Yes, Arizona permits a third party to defend someone who is attacked. A third party has the same rights and limitations to defend a third person, as the person being attacked has at his or her disposal. The question is would a reasonable person believe your wife was in imminent jeopardy of a physical assault? Moreover, if your wife initiated the confrontation, she has no right to self-defense until she has clearly has withdrawn from the fight. Here is a link to the Arizona statute that covers self-defense: http://www.azleg.state.az.us.
Q: Do minors receive special protection against assault?
Yes, if a person who is eighteen years of age or older assaults a person under the age of fifteen, the person who committed the assault can be charged with aggravated assault.
Q: What should a person charged with assault or aggravated assault do?
First, obey any restraining orders as a condition of release the court places on you. Second, consult with an attorney immediately. Defenses to assault and aggravated assault do exist. However, this is not a do it yourself project. You will need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.