What to Do if You’re Charged with Simple Assault in Pennsylvania
Simple assault is one of the most common criminal charges in America, including Pennsylvania. But how is it distinguished from aggravated assault, and what should you do if you’ve been charged?
What is Simple Assault?
Some instances of assault are extremely serious, causing permanent, disabling, and near-fatal injuries. This is referred to as aggravated assault. But while aggravated assault is relatively common, with over 26,000 cases reported by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency in 2013 alone, simple assault arrests are even more prevalent.
This is because aggravated assault is a felony, and charges are reserved for instances involving deadly weapons or causing extremely severe injuries. By comparison, simple assault covers a much broader scope which includes all injuries (and attempts to cause injury) short of aggravated assault, which could mean something as minor as a scuffle outside of a bar. Depending on the circumstances, even making a verbal threat could be sufficient.
As you can see, it’s relatively easy to be charged with this sort of crime. But if it happens to you, what should you do? What are some of your potential defense options?
Simple Assault Charges in Pennsylvania
Your first step should always be to contact an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who regularly handles assault cases. While the following information can help shed some light on what to expect and avenues to explore, it is absolutely critical that you consult with a qualified lawyer, who will be able to evaluate the evidence against you and protect your legal rights in court.
Your attorney will weigh your situation against Pennsylvania’s simple assault laws, which you can find at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2701. These laws take a few factors into consideration, such as your intent at the time of the incident, and whether you were armed with a weapon. For example, under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2701 you may be found guilty if:
- You cause (or attempt to cause) injury “intentionally, knowingly or
recklessly.” Those specifications are critical for defendants, because if your alleged “assault” was actually unintentional, then the case against you may be significantly weakened. Is there any proof you acted recklessly, or that you knew what you were doing and intended to hurt the defendant?
- You “negligently” cause injury with a “deadly weapon.” The negligence component is actually important, because if you deliberately cause injury with a deadly weapon (i.e. “intentionally or knowingly”), you can be charged with aggravated assault, which is even more serious. But did you really use a deadly weapon as alleged? By Pennsylvania definition, found at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2301 the term “deadly weapon” means:
- Any firearm, even if it’s unloaded.
- Any item “designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.”
- Any item “likely to produce death or serious bodily injury” when used as intended.
- You use “physical menace” to put another person in fear of immediate and serious physical injury. Can this be proven by the prosecution? Did the victim actually sustain any bodily injury? Were you actually capable of carrying out the supposed threat?
Possible Defenses Against Simple Assault Charges in Pennsylvania
Furthermore, there are several different defenses which could apply to your case, known as affirmative defenses. For example, under Pennsylvania law, you may be able to argue that:
- You acted in self-defense. You’ll need to be able to supply some sort of proof to back up this argument. In turn, the District Attorney needs to successfully prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you did not act in self-defense. If the District Attorney cannot do this, there is no longer a strong case against you and you may be found innocent.
- The other person deliberately provoked you into attacking him or her. This is called a provocation defense.
- You were involuntarily intoxicated, meaning you ingested drugs or alcohol without your knowledge or consent. The involuntary component of this defense is critical, because voluntary intoxication, such as getting drunk at a bar and starting a fight, cannot be used as a valid defense against assault charges.
Furthermore, the charges against you will be graded less severely if you and the other person mutually agreed to enter the fight. While simple assault is usually graded as a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and two years of incarceration, a mutually agreed-upon scuffle is classed as a third degree misdemeanor, which carries the same maximum fine, but only three months in jail.
How Does the Criminal Process Work for Simple Assault Charges in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, the criminal process for a charge like simple assault consists of multiple stages. Below, we will explain each of these stages and how an experienced criminal defense lawyer like those at Young Marr & Associates can help with your case at each stage.
In some cases, the police may be able to arrest you on the spot for simple assault, if they personally witnessed you commit the crime or otherwise have reason to believe you did so. In other cases, prior to making an arrest, the police will conduct an investigation into a crime that has been reported. This investigation will usually involve gathering physical evidence of the alleged crime as well as interviewing potential witnesses and suspects.
If you were not arrested on the spot but, after an investigation, police believe they have enough evidence to pin the crime on you, they will go before a judge and make an application for an arrest warrant. If the judge grants the warrant, the officers will come place you under arrest and you will be taken to the local police station for the booking process, which involves fingerprinting and photographing you as well as collecting your biographical information. Then, you will be kept in the station’s holding cell or at the local jail until your preliminary arraignment and bail hearing are held, within 72 hours but usually sooner.
Preliminary Arraignment and Bail Hearing
A preliminary arraignment occurs after you have been arrested when you formally appear before a judge to hear the charges against you. As noted above, this hearing must occur no more than 72 hours after you have been arrested. At or around the same time, a bail hearing will occur where the judge will also determine whether you will be released on your own recognizance (without bail), held until you can pay bail, or held with no bail.
At this stage, an experienced bail hearing lawyer like those on the team at Young, Marr & Associates can help you avoid being detained during the criminal process against you by advocating on your behalf for you to be released on your own recognizance or for a reasonable amount of bail. Factors taken into consideration by the judge when determining bail include the seriousness of the crime you are charged with, your criminal history, your financial and employment status, and your ties to the community.
If your assault case involved domestic violence, meaning violence allegedly committed against a partner, former partner, cohabitant, or anyone else who meets the definition of a domestic violence victim according to the state’s definition, you will likely also be issued a temporary restraining order. This order will prevent you from having any contact with the alleged victim, meaning that if you share a home with them, you must move out, at least temporarily. Our lawyers can work to challenge the restraining order at a hearing for a permanent order to be granted but you will likely have to find temporary housing at least for a short time if this is your situation.
The preliminary hearing is an optional event that the prosecutor will often ask you to waive. The hearing involves the prosecutor introducing their evidence and witnesses in a sort of “mini-trial proceeding” where they must show that there is probable cause to proceed with the case. This is a high bar and usually the prosecutor will be successful. However, this does not mean you should necessarily waive this hearing, as it will give our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates a chance to get a preview of the prosecutor’s case, challenge their evidence, and see how their witnesses hold up in court.
If no deal is reached after the preliminary hearing, you will be formally arraigned by a judge. Your charges will be read to you and you will plead guilty or not guilty. A skilled attorney for a criminal arraignment like those at Young, Marr & Associates will typically advise you to plead not guilty for the time being while they request discovery and file motions, such as a motion for suppression of evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure.
Once all the motions have been decided by the judge and all discovery has been received by both sides, a pre-trial conference may be held. Before, during, and after this meeting, our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates will negotiate with the prosecutor to try to work out a plea deal to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. If you are a first-time offender, you may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program, which, if completed successfully, will result in your charges being dropped. Other potential deals could involve you pleading guilty to a lesser charge, or the prosecutor promising to advocated for minimal penalties, in exchange for you pleading guilty waiving your right to a trial.
If you choose to take your case to trial, the Commonwealth will bear the burden of proving all elements of the simple assault charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. You can choose to request a jury trial or a bench trial, where a judge will decide. Our battle-tested trial attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates can advise you on which type of trial might be best in your situation. At trial, both sides will make their cases by presenting evidence and witnesses, and the jury must vote unanimously in order to convict you.
If you are found guilty of simple assault, you will next have a sentencing hearing where the judge will decide what penalties you will face. Sometimes there are mandatory minimum sentences that judge must had down, but often with simple assault cases, especially if it is your first time being charged, the judge has a great amount of discretion to decide what kind of penalty you will face. An experienced lawyer can argue for minimal penalties like probation rather than jail time by presenting evidence of your good character and reputation outside of this particular incident.
Pennsylvania Simple Assault Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
To arrange for a free and private consultation with a assault lawyer, call Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania today.