As a crime, an assault has a fairly wide definition, encompassing everything from physical attacks to merely conveying the threat of physical harm. Aggravated assault, on the other hand, is far more narrowly defined. Involving a concrete physical action which could result in grievous bodily harm, e.g. while armed with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault is classified as a felony in the state of Georgia. As a more serious crime, it carries greater consequences than a misdemeanor charge.
To fully understand the nature and consequences of aggravated assault in the state of Georgia, it helps to learn more about how the state defines this crime, how it punishes those convicted of it, and what recourse you may have from a legal standpoint.
Assault and battery are actually two separate offenses, though they tend to go together in criminal law. Assault is when you attempt violence or commit an act that makes someone believe you are about to commit a violent act against them. Battery is when you actually commit a violent act.
To put it another way, if you shoot a gun at someone, you assault them. When the bullet hits them, you’ve battered them. So many, if not most, instances of assault also result in a battery.
Understanding Aggravated Assault
Aggravated Assault is defined in GA Code § 16-5-21:
(a) A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults:
(1) With intent to murder, to rape, or to rob;
(2) With a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury;
(3) With any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in strangulation; or
(4) A person or persons without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons.
Put simply, what separates Aggravated Assault from misdemeanor or “simple assault” is the dangerousness of the assault.
If the person was just angry and didn’t intend any serious harm, it’s simple assault. If the person was attempting to kill, rape or rob the victim, it’s aggravated assault.
If the person was just using their fists it’s (usually) just a simple assault. If the person was using a so-called “deadly weapon” like a gun or knife, or strangling someone it’s aggravated assault.
In some instances, such as if the person is much larger than the victim or has special training, their fists can be considered “deadly weapons” to commit an aggravated assault.
A person who is HIV positive and intentionally attempts to infect another has been held to be aggravated assault as “intent to murder.”
Georgia courts have held that a victim does not have to be aware of the assault for aggravated assault to occur. Simply shooting at someone with the intent to kill, even if they are not aware it is happening can still be aggravated assault.
The Penalties and Consequences
As stated earlier, aggravated assault is prosecuted as a felony in the state of Georgia. For first-time offenders, a felony charge will typically carry the following penalties.
Prison time: Sentencing guidelines for first-time felonies typically include a term of no less than one year and no more than 20 years in a federal correctional facility. Minimum sentencing increase to three years in prison for crimes that involve the discharging of a firearm from a moving vehicle.
Probation: Aside from time spent inside prison, those convicted of aggravated assault can expect to spend a certain amount of time under probation. During this period, they will be expected to maintain a clean criminal record, maintain regular meetings with a probation officer and possibly submit to electronic monitoring.
Monetary Fines: As part of sentencing, a court could demand restitution for the victims, with amounts varying based on the nature of the damage. There are also fines that can range up to $12,500 for attempted aggravated assault, $25,000 for deliberately committing aggravated assault, or beyond $100,000 for knowingly committing the act while armed.
Felony Murder: Aggravated Assault is often used as the “predicate felony” for felony murder. Felony murder happens when someone is killed during the commission of a felony. Because felony murder carries the same severe penalties as malice murder (death, life in prison), prosecutors like to use aggravated assault to enhance a charge that would otherwise be a lesser, manslaughter charge into a murder charge. Unlike malice murder, felony murder is easier to prove because you don’t have to prove the killer had malice in his heart.
Because of this practice by prosecutors, nearly every shooting death can be charged as felony murder. The act of shooting at the person is aggravated assault (predicate felony) and the subsequent death makes it felony murder. Upon conviction, the aggravated assault “merges” into the more serious felony murder.
Legal Defenses and Strategies
For those facing their first felony offense for aggravated assault, Georgia law may potentially permit deferred adjudication under the “First Offender Act.” Under the terms of this law, the defendant will plead guilty but will not have been convicted. They will serve their sentence, which may include jail time but can be only probation, after which, if they do not get in trouble again, they will be granted an order of discharge. Meaning, their case is dismissed without a conviction. This can be advantageous, as it keeps a felony conviction off of the defendant’s criminal record. After discharge, the defendant regains all of his civil rights, including the right to vote and carry firearms.
Beyond that, there are several strategies that could reduce charges against the defendant or allow for them to be dismissed entirely. These include:
Self-Defense: A common defense against aggravated assault charges, arguing for self-defense involves laying out the circumstances surrounding the crime. If the defendant perceived that there was a threat of force against them, and that they responded proportionally and reasonably, then they acted in self-defense.
Defense of Others or Property: The same tenets that apply to self-defense would apply here. In this case, however, the defense would show that the defendant felt there was an imminent threat to someone else or their property and had no option but to intervene with force to prevent them from being a victim of felonious assault. While a person can use deadly force to defend against intruders in their home, they usually cannot use deadly force to defend uninhabited property.
Acting Under Duress or Coercion: Demonstrating to the court that the defendant acted under duress means showing that they were not acting of their own volition. Essentially, this means proving that they, in the commission of the crime they crime, were forced to respond to an imminent danger of physical injury or death. Coercion is typically not a defense to an aggravated assault to results in felony murder.
There are numerous other ways to fight aggravated assault charges in a court of law. Remember that being accused does not mean you have been convicted. Ensuring your freedom and regaining control of your life means finding an experienced attorney skilled in criminal defense.
Wherever you are in the state of Georgia, Busbee Law Group can help you fight back. We approach the law differently, with lighter caseloads that allow us to give every client our full attention and an exhaustively researched defense. We dive deeper into every detail of your case to demonstrate our innocence, giving us the edge in court.
Your case is important. You are important. So we approach every case with the goal of seeing you succeed. Fill out the contact form below to schedule a consultation, then let the Busbee Law Group help you take back control of your life.