When Does Misdemeanor Assault Rise to the Level of a Felony?
While assault laws may seem simple and easy to understand on the surface, it’s actually a complex area of law. Every state has its own laws on the books and those laws define the various offenses that constitute assault. They also delineate what factors could elevate a misdemeanor charge to a felony.
To start, let’s take a look at misdemeanor assault. Then we’ll look into what circumstances could raise what would otherwise be a misdemeanor to the felony level. Then we’ll take a look at various types of assault.
Understanding Misdemeanor Assault
You may also hear this referred to as simple assault. In most states, a simple assault is classified as an act that puts another person in fear of bodily harm or causes actual bodily harm. Touching someone with the intent to cause physical injury or in a way that actually causes physical injury could lead to a conviction on simple assault charges.
Depending on the severity of physical injury, a conviction could include penalties of probation, fines and up to one year in prison.
What is Felony Assault?
Felony assault is most commonly known throughout the nation as aggravated assault. This is a very serious charge that can lead to several years in prison upon conviction. Prosecutors will typically charge an offender with this crime if they suspect “aggravating circumstances” were involved. These circumstances include, but are not limited to the following:
- Serious superficial physical injury like severe bruising or lacerations
- The offense is committed with the use of a deadly weapon
- Disfigurement or fractured bones
- The victim of the assault is restrained
- The assault takes place in someone’s private home
- Any assault committed on a police officer, prison guard, prosecutor, teacher or medical professional
- When an adult assaults someone underaged
Even a first time felony aggravated assault conviction can lead to a prison term that can carry with it several years in prison. The judge will determine the sentence based on someone’s social and criminal history and the circumstances of the crime.
The consequences can become much more severe on a second aggravated assault conviction with a prison term of additional years. A third conviction could land someone in prison for many years or even for life in some states.
Threatening someone with bodily harm is considered misdemeanor assault in some states. However states like Arizona have laws on the books that will elevate threatening or intimidating to a felony level if gang activity is involved.
Just like other forms of assault, domestic violence charges are classified as misdemeanor or felony offenses. However, in many states, even misdemeanor offenses are prosecuted more aggressively. A first offense
may include community service, jail time, fines and court-ordered behavioral treatment. A second misdemeanor offense could, and likely would, result in additional probation or jail time. A second or subsequent offense may even elevate a misdemeanor to a felony.
Aggravated domestic violence is typically a felony charge. Domestic violence that results in bodily injury or if a weapon is involved in the assault can also be grounds for a felony charge.
An assault or threat of any kind will rise to the level of a felony if authorities believe the offense was motivated by hate or bias. Hate crimes target specific groups with what are known as “immutable characteristics.” Immutable characteristics include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and like categories.
What to Do When Your Misdemeanor Charge Is Elevated to a Felony
If you face felony assault charges or the prospect of having a misdemeanor charge upgraded to a felony, you need to seek the guidance of a defense attorney who can help you weigh your legal options. Felony convictions will have life-altering consequences, including prison time, fines and a permanent criminal record.
A skilled assault lawyer can help you understand your rights and work to have your charges reduced, dismissed or acquitted at trial. Without the guidance of an attorney, your odds of being hit with a harsh sentence will increase significantly.
Guest post by Amanda Burns
Edited for grammar and syntax by Jay Leiderman. Content not changed.