aggravated assault

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Aggravated assault is an assault that causes serious bodily injury. For example, New York has found evidence supporting a charge of attempted aggravated assault where the defendant discharged a firearm in an attempted robbery. Unlike simple assault, which requires that a defendant attempt or cause bodily harm, aggravated assault is a more serious offense that requires a defendant attempting to cause (or causes) serious bodily harm to another. 

Aggravated assault is a general intent crime. A general intent crime has been described as one that "requires that the charged act is voluntarily taken, but does not require any intention to violate the law or do a further act or achieve any further consequence, result, harm, or injury from such act." In short, general intent only requires that the person is voluntarily doing that which the law declares to be a crime. Therefore, in the context of aggravated assault, the prosecution only needs to prove that the defendant intended to do the physical act, or recklessly did the physical act (leading to the serious bodily harm of another). 

Aggravated assault is a more serious crime than simple assault but lesser than felonious assault, attempted murder, and attempted voluntary manslaughter. Indeed, aggravated assault can be charged as a lesser crime to a felonious assault. A felonious assault may be downgraded to an aggravated assault if a mitigating circumstance, such as provocation, is found. While words and past threats generally do not count as provocation sufficient to lessen a felonious assault to an aggravated assault, courts have found that, for example, catching one's spouse in adultery is sufficient provocation.
Aggravated assault can be charged to varying degrees with respective punishments. For example, in New Jersey, aggravated assault stemming from causing serious bodily injury to another is a second-degree offense, which carries a punishment of 5-10 years in prison, or a fine up to $150,000, or both. On the other hand, knowingly pointing a firearm at another can be classified as a fourth-degree aggravated assault, carrying a punishment of up to 18 months in prison, or a fine up to $10,000, or both. 

There are a number of defenses to aggravated assault. For example, a defendant may assert self-defense, which allows the use of force towards another when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for protecting him or herself against imminent danger or death. Some jurisdictions also require a showing that the party asserting self-defense was not responsible for provoking the situation and that he or she complied with the duty to retreat, or that retreat was impossible. On the other hand, incapacity due to voluntary intoxication is generally not a defense to aggravated assault. 

See also: aggravating circumstances, aggravating factor, assault and battery, criminal law

[Last updated in December of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]