Types of assault in Philadelphia

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Assault is one of the most common charges issued by Philadelphia police. This is because the definition of assault under Philadelphia law is broad and covers various situations. An obvious scenario would be engaging in a fistfight or a physical altercation at a sporting event or local bar.

If you are currently facing assault charges, you should consult Attorney Derek Steenson, a professional criminal defense attorney, to reduce the charges, minimize consequences, or seek a dismissal.

What is Assault Under Pennsylvania Law?

Under Pennsylvania law, assault is defined as an attempt (intentionally or through reckless behavior) to cause bodily injury to another person or using physical menace to put another person in fear of the possibility of bodily injury, or through negligence, causes bodily injury with a deadly weapon.

From the above definition, clenching a fist menacingly that a victim can interpret as a start of a punch or pointing a toy gun at a person can earn you assault charges. Assault charges are more serious when a deadly weapon is involved.

Assault can occur along with other situations or crimes, including:

  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Resisting arrest
  • Domestic abuse
  • A bar fight
  • Street fights
  • Workplace violence


The law categorizes assault into two:

What is Simple Assault in Philadelphia?

Simple assault is a crime an individual is charged with when they knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly cause bodily injury in a way that is perceived indifferent to human life.

In Philadelphia, simple assault charges are dealt with seriously as they are commonly associated with domestic violence. To discourage domestic violence, Philadelphia prosecutors seek harsh sentences for charges of simple assault.

Is Simple Assault in Philadelphia a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Philadelphia categorizes simple assault as a misdemeanor. Most simple assaults offenses are considered second-degree misdemeanors. However, there are some exceptions:

  • It’s considered a third-degree misdemeanor when the assault involved a scuffle or fight where the participants were in mutual consent. This means the people involved agreed to fight.
  • The simple assault is considered a first-degree misdemeanor if a person over 18 years old assaults a child below 12 years.

Compared to a felony, a misdemeanor attracts a lower maximum penalty including fines and a jail term. Because of this, some defendants think it’s not necessary to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia.

This is a big mistake because a misdemeanor conviction can still result in expensive fines, supervised probation, and a couple of months to years in jail. Moreover, a misdemeanor conviction comes with a criminal record that affects your applications to volunteer and academic programs or job and security clearance applications.

Where will a simple assault case be heard in Philadelphia?

In Philadelphia, simple assault cases are heard in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. At this point, the cases are heard by a judge without a jury. If an appeal is made, the case may be heard before a jury or judge in the Court of Common Pleas.

Can you go to jail for simple assault in Philadelphia?

According to Section 15.66 of the Pennsylvania Law, you can serve between one to five years in jail for simple assault.

The penalties of Pennsylvania simple assault depend on the category of misdemeanor and are as follows:

  • First-degree misdemeanor attracts up to 5 years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines
  • Second-degree misdemeanor attracts up to 2 years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines
  • Third-degree misdemeanor simple assault attracts up to 1 year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines

The criminal penalties might be enhanced, or extra civil penalties can apply if the simple assault was a hate crime or an act of spousal abuse or domestic assault.

How is Aggravated Assault Defined in Philadelphia?

In Philadelphia, a person is charged with aggravated assault when they knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly cause serious physical injury in a manner that is perceived as extreme indifference to human life.

A person can also be charged with aggravated assault when they try to cause bodily injury to a member of a protected class which includes:

  • Teachers
  • Police officers
  • Parking enforcement officers
  • Firefighters
  • Emergency medical technician
  • Medical personnel
  • Judges
  • Attorneys general
  • Public defenders and assistant defenders
  • Public utility employees
  • Probation officer
  • Correctional officers

Assault against minors is considered aggravated assault. Specific situations may include:

  • Serious bodily injury inflicted or attempted on a 12-year-old child or younger
  • Any form of bodily injury inflicted or attempted on a 6-year-old child or younger

When police officers act illegally and manhandle a private citizen, they rush to make an aggravated assault arrest to protect themselves from their actions. Because of this, many people have been brought up on battery and aggravated assault charges (in addition to being roughed up) for attempting to bite an officer, assuming a boxer’s stance, or trying to swerve into a police car.

Although the prosecutor has to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt during the case, a professional assault lawyer will enroll the help of skilled investigators to determine the facts of the arrest and find potential witnesses the police overlook.

What is the difference between simple and aggravated assault?

Aside from legal consequences, the differences between aggravated and simple assault lie in their description. In simple assault, one is charged for attempting to cause ‘bodily harm,’ while in aggravated assault, one is charged for attempting to cause ‘serious bodily harm.’

Under Philadelphia law, bodily injury is considered serious when it:

  • Creates a substantial risk of death
  • Ends in serious permanent disfigurement
  • Results in permanent injury or extended impairment or loss of organ or body function

What are the consequences of aggravated assault charges?

Aggravated assault charges are grouped into second-degree felony and first-degree felony.

It’s a second-degree felony offense when the aggravated felony assault charge doesn’t include attempted or inflicted serious physical harm. The consequences of this felony conviction may be:

  • Up to 10 years of jail time
  • Up to $25,000 in fines

Aggravated assault is a first-degree felony when the assault resulted in serious physical harm, or the prosecutor claims you attempted to inflict serious physical harm. The consequences for a conviction may be:

  • A maximum prison sentence of 20 years
  • Up to $25,000 in fines

What are the common defenses to assault charges?

There are multiple defenses to assault charges, but the most common is Self-defense.

The self-defense claim is an affirmative defense. The burden of proof doesn’t shift to the defense, but instead, it’s the prosecutor’s job to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant didn’t act in self-defense. Some people are wary of self-defense claims since they are required to admit they assaulted the victim. But when done right and in the proper situation, self-defense is an effective defense.

To claim self-defense, the assault lawyer should prove:

  • The victim was the instigator
  • They had reason to fear imminent physical injury or death by the aggressor
  • They didn’t escalate the situation. This means if it was a fistfight and they pulled out a gun, they cannot claim self-defense
  • They couldn’t retreat from the situation
  • Lack of Intent

The intent is important in assault cases. Consider these two scenarios:

  • You are arguing with a friend at home, the situation escalates, and you throw a punch. The victim falls back and hits their head on a table; they are rushed to hospital but succumb to injuries days later.
  • You climb off the bike you rode to the scene to find the victim and shoot them. But despite shooting severely, you miss the victim, and you leave.

In scenario 1, the intention was to cause physical harm despite the outcome. And in scenario 2, the intent was to kill with a deadly weapon despite the victim escaping unharmed.

In scenario 1, you’d get simple assault charges for recklessly endangering another person’s life and probably get involuntary manslaughter, which is a first-degree misdemeanor despite killing the victim, which wasn’t the intent.

In scenario 2, you’d get aggravated assault, attempted murder, possession of an instrument of crime, possessing a firearm, and other offenses since the intention was to kill.

  • Credibility

If there are holes in the victim’s story of what happens, the judge or jury cannot trust their account of the story and often find the defendant not guilty.

An assault attorney can protect your legal rights during an assault case by:

  • Negotiating a favorable plea bargain where you plead guilty to lesser charges, receiving more lenient penalties.
  • Proving, misidentification or false accusation

No serious physical harm was caused or attempted.

Serious physical harm inflicted on the victim is easy to prove by reviewing medical records and cross-examining the victim. Victims tend to over exaggerate their injuries when reporting to the law enforcement officer. If the prosecutor cannot prove serious injury at trial, it’s not aggravated assault anymore.

Why Clients Choose Derek Steenson, Attorney at Law

If you’re accused of assaulting someone, contact us today to learn how we can help.

Derek Steenson, Attorney at Law, specializes in defending people who have been accused of assaulting others. He knows how to use different defenses to win cases. Derek does not want to waste time and money by wasting resources trying to prove someone else is guilty. Derek Steenson

Instead, Attorney Steenson will focus on proving you were justified in using force. That means he’ll try to show that the victim had provoked the defendant before being attacked. He also might argue that the victim was too drunk or high to understand what was happening. He may even prove that the victim was lying about the incident.

Criminal charges can be very stressful. They can affect your life for years to come. The last thing you need is a criminal attorney who doesn’t know how to defend against criminal charges.

Attorney Steenson has more than 20 years of experience helping people just like you. He understands the law and how to apply it to your Philadelphia assault defense. He is dedicated to protecting your rights and getting you the best possible outcome.  If you’ve been charged with assault, contact Attorney Derek Steenson right away. He’s ready to fight your case!

Derek Steenson will take care of all aspects of your case from start to finish.  He will meet with you personally to discuss your options, explain the process, and answer any questions you may have.

You don’t have to go through this alone. Let Attorney Steenson handle everything for you so you can concentrate on your family and future.

We offer free initial consultations. Call us today at (215) 253-8658. We look forward to hearing from you.