What is Aggravated Assault? Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Aggravated assault is a serious criminal offense that is punished more severely than other forms of assault. Factors that may raise a regular assault charge to aggravated assault are:

  • Use of a weapon
  • Status of victim
  • Intent of the suspect
  • Degree of injury

Assaults that happen in the home of the victim also may constitute aggravated assault.

Different states will classify certain types of assault as aggravated assault in their criminal statutes. They might use more specific terms, including assault with a deadly weapon, but it is still aggravated assault.

Aggravated assaults usually are felonies, while simple assault may be a misdemeanor. Most states have several levels of criminal charges for different types of aggravated assaults.

Aggravated Assault Laws

Every state has aggravated assault laws on the books. Most assault cases are charged at the state and local level, while interstate crimes are more often charged at the federal level, such as counterfeiting and drug trafficking.

Related crimes include:

  • Felonious assault: Occurs when an unlawful attack that causes injuries to another person.
  • Simple assault: Occurs when there is no weapon used and the injuries are minor.
  • Sexual assault: Involves using force against the will of the persona, which results in rape or molestation or an attempt.

Aggravated Assault Crimes & Charges

Whether a crime is considered aggravated assault depends on the factors below.

Weapon Used

In all states, using a deadly weapon during an assault is defined as the crime of aggravated assault. This is true whether or not the weapon actually caused physical harm to the victim.

Basic assault does not require the person to suffer physical harm; the suspect must have merely behaved in a way that puts someone in fear of their safety. Someone who does so with the threat of violence with a deadly weapon has committed aggravated assault, as the fear that they fear is more substantial.

Weapons that are classified as deadly weapons will include items that may cause death and serious injury, including:

  • Guns
  • Knives
  • Bats
  • Hammers
  • Machetes

Whether a smaller weapon will constitute a deadly weapon under the law depends upon how it was used; if a suspect has a pocket knife on his person, this would not be considered a deadly weapon. However, if he held the open knife to your throat, it would be considered a deadly weapon.

Victim Identity

Some assaults are defined as aggravated assaults under state law due to the status of the victim. Many states state that assault on a police officer or a firefighter is aggravated assault. Usually, the victim has to have been performing their duty when they were assaulted, and the suspect must have known of the status of the victim.

Further, assaults on some protected minorities can be classified as hate crimes, such as attacks based on race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.


The suspect’s mental state also can make a simple assault an aggravated assault. If he acted with the intent to cause severe harm, or to make the person fear severe harm, the assault can be aggravated.

Depending on the state, some types of reckless actions can be considered aggravated assault.

Degree of Injury

Injuries to a victim that are more serious can make an assault an aggravated assault. In almost all states, assaults that lead to serious injuries requiring substantial medical care will qualify as aggravated assaults. Injuries that can lead to death obviously are serous, as are injuries that disfigure the victim.

Aggravated Assault Punishment

Most states consider aggravated assault a felony that is punishable by one to 20 years in prison, depending on the state and on the circumstances of the case. The judge may have some discretion on how long the sentence should be, although many states have mandatory minimum sentences in effect for these types of violent crimes.

Aggravated Assault Sentencing Guidelines

Some of the factors the judge will consider at sentencing are:

  • If the defendant shows remorse
  • Extent of victim injuries
  • Weapon used
  • Prior criminal record

In some states, if the suspect attacks an elderly person or police officer, extra time may be added to the sentence.

Aggravated Assault Statute of Limitations

Most states have a statute of limitations on aggravated assault of five to seven years.

Aggravated Assault Cases

Some of the aggravated assault cases that have received national attention in recent days include:

Aggravated Assault Quick Links & References

  • FBI Crime Statistics – The FBI has the most comprehensive collection and analysis of violent crime and property crime in the US. It includes arrest, clearance and law enforcement information.
  • The Most Dangerous States in America – Despite recent headlines, violent crimes have dropped 4.4% since 2013, according to USA Today. Still, the states mentioned here are among the most violent.
  • National Crime Prevention Association – The top crime prevention association in the US.

Aggravated Assault Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming