Assault cases often involve parties with a personal history, complex fact scenarios, and conflicting witness statements. For defendants, penalties can be severe, so it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights.
Our experienced criminal defense attorneys represent many different types of people at different stages in their lives, including college students, professionals, and others who are confronting the legal system for the first time with cases involving simple assault, bar fights, domestic assault, and more.
We understand that getting charged with assault can be frustrating, intimidating, and overwhelming. You may wonder what penalties you may face, how much it will cost, whether you will lose your license and how a criminal conviction could impact your future.
SIMPLE ASSAULT AND AGGRAVATED ASSAULT
The decision on whether to file charges or not is often left to the discretion of the police officers investigating the assault. There are times that police officers will seek guidance from the district attorney's office and file assault charges based upon the recommendations of the district attorney. In many instances, unless a case is clearly self-defense, the police often file Simple Assault or Aggravated Assault charges against some or all of the participants in the fight. At the scene, officers make initial credibility determinations as to which people or witnesses that the officers believe are being truthful. Officers may not believe that a person actually acted in self-defense, and thereby file charges. In other situations, if the officers are simply not sure whether or not self-defense was lawfully applied, many officers and district attorneys adopt an opinion that a jury or judge should hear all the pertinent evidence and then decide whether or not self-defense was appropriate under the circumstances. If you are charged with Simple Assault or Aggravated Assault, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Self-defense, also called "justification" in Pennsylvania, is an affirmative defense, meaning that the person charged with Simple Assault or Aggravated Assault must present some evidence, from whatever source, to justify consideration of the self-defense issue at trial. Technically, the person charged with assault does not need to actually prove that he acted in self-defense, but the person must present some evidence that supports the defense in order to allow a judge or jury to consider the defense at trial. This means that the criminal defense attorney may present evidence, such as testimony from either the defense or another witness, to support the self-defense claim, or the criminal defense attorney may be able to raise the self-defense issue by cross-examining prosecution witnesses. Again, it does not matter what source the evidence supporting self-defense comes from, as long as some evidence is presented. The decision as to whether or not sufficient evidence was presented of self-defense to allow a judge or jury to consider the issue is determined by the judge at trial.
If the person presents some evidence to show self-defense, then the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person did not act in self-defense. If the district attorney disproves that the person charged with Simple Assault or Aggravated Assault acted in self-defense, then the judge or jury will convict the person. However, if the district attorney fails to present sufficient evidence to disprove the self-defense claim, then the person charged with assault must be found not guilty.
Those facing allegations of domestic violence could be facing charges of assault, aggravated assault, and battery. If the crime is against a family member or partner, then the charges may carry extra weight in some cases.
WHAT CONSTITUTES DOMESTIC ABUSE?
While your charges may not specifically read "domestic violence", Pennsylvania defines domestic abuse as certain crimes against household members, family members, former partners, parents, children, siblings, etc. The following actions may constitute domestic violence and lead to criminal charges:
causing or attempting to cause bodily injury
simple assault or aggravated assault
A police officer may make an arrest if there is sufficient cause to believe that you committed involuntary manslaughter, simple assault, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, or stalking against a family member as defined above. So even if the officer did not have a warrant, the arrest may still be valid. That said, your defense lawyer will examine the circumstances of the arrest when handling the case.
CONSEQUENCES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CHARGES
The criminal penalties you're facing will depend on the specific charges levied against you. A conviction for involuntary manslaughter may carry more severe penalties than a conviction for simple assault, for example.
In any domestic violence case though, the victim of the alleged domestic violence may file a petition for protection. This may order you to abstain from:
further acts of abuse
returning to the victim's household
entering the victim's residence, workplace, or school
It may also contain orders for temporary custody and payment of support to the alleged victim. Even if you believe yourself completely innocent, do not violate the terms of any court orders granted following the alleged abuse. This could further complicate the case and lead to additional penalties.
BUILDING A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFENSE
Your lawyer will examine the case details to help you determine possible defenses to whichever charges you are facing. Some possible defenses include self-defense, such as if the alleged victim attacked you, causing you to use force to defend yourself. Provocation might be a valid defense in certain cases as well.
In some cases, the violence was merely a mistake. If there's evidence that you did not intend to physically assault the alleged victim, it might be a valid defense. An example might be if you mistakenly struck the individual when turning around, not knowing they were present behind you. Other possible defenses include insanity and proving that the alleged incident for which you are charged never took place. Discuss each possibility with your attorney, who can help you create a strategy for approaching the charges levied against you.