Aggravated assault is an assault which criminal laws punish more severely due to its seriousness. Factors which raise an assault to an aggravated assault typically include the use of a weapon, the status of the victim, the intent of the perpetrator, and the degree of injury caused. Assaults which happen in the victims home can also qualify as an aggravated assault.
States classify certain assaults as aggravated assault under their criminal codes. They may also use more specific names such as assault with a deadly weapon. Often, aggravated assaults qualify as felonies, while simple assaults can be misdemeanors. Many states have multiple degrees of criminal charges for aggravated assault.
Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Use of a deadly weapon during an assault constitutes aggravated assault. This applies whether or not the weapon causes physical injury to anyone. Basic assault does not require physical harm, but rather that the perpetrator behaves in a way intended to put someone in reasonable fear for their safety. Someone who does this by threatening the person with a deadly weapon commits aggravated assault because the fear involved is fear of more grievous injury.
Weapons classified as deadly weapons typically include things which could cause death or serious injury. Some weapons fit this bill including guns. Whether or not other objects constitute deadly weapons depends on the manner in which they are used in the assault. For example, a pocket knife is generally not considered a lethal weapon, but if held to a victims neck, it could be deadly.
The Identity of the Victim
Some assaults become aggravated assaults depending on the status of the victim. For example, many states punish assault on police officers, fire fighters and even teachers as aggravated assault. Typically, for such an assault to constitute aggravated assault, the victim must have been performing his or her duty when assaulted and the perpetrator must have known of the victims status.
In addition to possible punishment for aggravated assault, assaults on members of certain protected classes can constitute hate crimes. These can include assaults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability of the victim.
Intent of the Perpetrator
The mental state of the perpetrator can also push an assault from simple assault to aggravated assault. If he or she acted with the intent to cause severe harm or fear of severe harm, an assault can become aggravated. Depending on the state, reckless behavior can also constitute aggravated assault for example when someone acts with reckless indifference to human life, but without the specific intent to injure any particular person. If a dangerous or deadly weapon is involved, an assault may become aggravated even without any specific intent to injure.
Degree of Injury to the Victim
More serious injuries to the victim can cause an assault to become an aggravated assault. In most states, assaults causing serious bodily injury qualify as aggravated assaults. The seriousness of an injury will vary greatly from case to case. Injuries threatening death will qualify as a serious injury, as will those which maim or disfigure the victim. Some states specify by statute particular injuries that qualify as serious. If a method of assault which would normally cause death only causes more minor physical injury, some states will still punish it as aggravated assault (or even attempted homicide).
Sexual assaults usually qualify as their own type of assault, but depending on the state, could be charged as assault/battery, sexual assault, aggravated assault or rape.
A knowledgeable criminal lawyer should be able to help you navigate your states distinctions between the many forms an assault charge can take.