Assault charges are serious, and demand a serious defense. A conviction often carries the risk of years of incarceration. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to protect your liberties and defend your rights. The Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at Montoya Coleman Refuse to Lose.
The law governing Simple Assault is 18 Pa.C.S. § 2701, and there are numerous different types.
- The most common type of Simple Assault is when the defendant attempts to cause or intentionally causes “bodily injury” to another. Bodily injury is defined as an “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.” An example is the defendant punching, or attempting to punch, someone in the face.
- A defendant can also be guilty of Simple Assault where he attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury is defined as “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” An example is when the defendant points a gun at someone.
- Finally, a defendant can be guilty of Simple Assault by negligently causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. A deadly weapon can be anything that can cause death or serious bodily injury. Negligence is a much lower standard than intentional, as required by the other types of Simple Assault. This can occur, for example, when the defendant accidentally cuts someone with a knife.
Simple Assault is a misdemeanor of the second degree, and carries a penalty of up to two years incarceration. However, where the Simple Assault involves a mutual fight, the conviction is a misdemeanor of the third degree and carries a maximum penalty of up to one year incarceration.
The law governing Aggravated Assault is 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702, and there are numerous different types.
- The most common type of Aggravated Assault is where the defendant attempts to cause or intentionally causes serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury is defined as “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” An example of this is where the defendant intentionally shoots someone. Even if the defendant misses, he could be convicted based on the attempt, as a gunshot could show his intent to cause serious bodily injury. A conviction under this section is a felony of the first degree and carries a penalty of up to twenty years incarceration.
- A defendant can also be guilty of Aggravated Assault where he causes serious bodily injury “recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” This requires a high level of recklessness – such as the defendant hitting a pedestrian with his car while driving drunk. A conviction under this section is a felony of the first degree and carries a penalty of up to twenty years incarceration.
- A defendant can be guilty of Aggravated Assault where he attempts to cause or intentionally causes bodily injury to certain protected classes – such as police officers, teachers, and firefighters. A conviction under this section only requires bodily injury. Bodily injury is defined as an “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.” An example is the defendant punching, or attempting to punch, a police officer in the face. A conviction under this section is a felony of the second degree and carries a penalty of up to ten years incarceration.
- Finally, defendant can be guilty of Aggravated Assault where he attempts to cause or intentionally causes bodily injury with a deadly weapon. A deadly weapon can be anything that can cause death or serious bodily injury. An example is the defendant stabbing someone in the leg with a knife, as a stab could cause substantial pain and the knife could be considered a deadly weapon. A conviction under this section is a felony of the second degree and carries a penalty of up to ten years incarceration.
Defending Assault Charges - Motions
At a preliminary hearing, the government must prove that it was more likely than not that the defendant committed the crimes charged (more than 50%). The court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the government, give the government all reasonable inferences, and may not make credibility determinations. Due to this very low standard, most criminal charges are held for court following a preliminary hearing. However, where the government failed to meet their burden, the defendant may request that the court dismiss criminal charges at the preliminary hearing.
If the court refuses to dismiss criminal charges at the preliminary hearing, the defendant may file a Motion to Quash requesting that a higher court dismiss the charges due to insufficient evidence. The higher court will review the evidence that was presented at the preliminary hearing to determine whether it was more likely than not that the defendant committed the crimes charged. The government may also supplement the record by presenting new evidence at the Motion to Quash hearing.
Under Rule 600 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the government must bring the defendant to trial within 365 days of the date that the criminal complaint was filed. However, the government only has 180 days in Philadelphia Municipal Court. Excluded from this time are delays attributable to the defense, and delays where the government was “duly diligent.” The crucial issue for the court to determine is usually whether the government was duly diligent. For instance, where the government was not ready for trial because a witness failed to appear, the court has to analyze whether the government was duly diligent in securing the witness’s appearance. If the court determines that the government was not duly diligent then the case will be dismissed.
The Constitution requires that all people, and their property, be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that warrants be supported by probable cause. With a Motion to Suppress, the defendant requests that the court suppress (or not allow) evidence to be used at trial that the police obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. For example, a defendant may seek to suppress a firearm that was obtained during a warrantless search of his car, or a statement that he made when he wasn’t read his Miranda warnings.
If, after a hearing, the court determines that the evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights, then the evidence cannot be introduced at trial. This often helps the defense’s case immensely as critical evidence cannot be used by the government.
Defending Assault Charges - Trial
This defense is simply that the crime occurred, but the defendant is not the person that committed it. Maybe the defendant looked like the real burglar, or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney analyze the facts of the case to determine whether there was a mistaken identification.
On the other hand, other times people will straight up lie and claim that the defendant assaulted them. Usually a person will be governed by some kind of motive to get someone else into trouble. An experienced criminal defense attorney can determine what the motive was and convince the judge or jury. In addition, nearly every minor detail is of great importance as every inconsistency must be highlighted in order to impeach the witnesses’ credibility. The lawyers at Montoya Coleman are not afraid to call alleged “victims” liars and expose their lies to a judge or a jury.
One of the most common defenses to assault charges is self-defense. Self-defense allows for a person to use reasonable force necessary to protect a person or property. An example is where someone tries punching the defendant and he punches them back to protect himself. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means that if the judge or the jury believes that the defendant acted in self-defense, it is excuses him of criminal liability for the assault charge.
A common defense for Aggravated Assault is to argue that the assault was only a Simple Assault. For example, the defendant may be charged with Aggravated Assault where he punches someone multiple times. However, an experience criminal defense attorney can minimize the injuries and the defendant’s intent to show that he was just attempting to cause bodily injury (as opposed to serious bodily injury). The difference in penalties between an Aggravated Assault and a Simple Assault are huge as it is graded down to a misdemeanor and there is a much better chance of avoiding incarceration.