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What is the Difference Between a Simple Assault and an Aggravated Assault in Arizona?

When clients come to us having been charged with a misdemeanor assault, one of the first issues they raise is the fact that the alleged victim wasn't really hurt. Our clients are surprised to learn that assault charges, at the misdemeanor level at least, can be based on very minor injuries, or in some cases, on no injury at all. Misdemeanor assault charges are often based on very simple and minor injuries such as a scrape or small bruise. Such charges can also be based upon the mere threat of a minor injury, e.g., I am going to punch you if you don't shut up ... In it's simplest sense, an assault charge can arise even from the mere "unwelcome touching" of another person, such as a finger poke that causes no food physical injury whatsoever.

So clearly misdemeanor assault charges rarely include any real injury, at least any injury beyond the scrape or a small bruise mentioned above. Arizona law however includes a number of factors that can turn a simple misdemeanor assault into an aggravated felony assault. Some of the more common grounds for felony aggravated assault are as follows:

The use of a deadly weapon – Any time a party uses a weapon to threaten another person, the person subjects himself to charges for felony aggravated assault. Note the prosecutors usually make an "allegation of dangerousness," in these cases in addition to the basic charge. With the allegation of dangerousness, a defendant is facing a Class 3 Felony with mandatory prison.

The use of a dangerous instrument – In the above example, i.e., an assault involving the use of a weapon, the mere threatening of harm can cause a basis for the aggravated assault charge. However, in the case of a dangerous instrument, the instrument must actually be used against the alleged victim in a way that can cause serious physical injury. The distinction between a deadly weapon and a dangerous instrument lies in its ordinary intended use. "Dangerous instrument" is defined under Arizona law as something that, while not necessarily being designed as a weapon, is used in a manner that creates the risk of death or serious physical injury. A dangerous instrument can be anything from a kitchen knife (not designed as a weapon) to be reckless or use of an automobile, or the use of an automobile while intoxicated.

The cause of serious physical injury - If an assault, even one that would otherwise be a simple assault (like a punch in a street fight), causes a serious physical injury to another person, the assault can become a felony aggravated assault under Arizona law. They "serious physical injury" is one that includes a real risk of death, or involves serious impairment of health, or permanent disfigurement.

The status of the victim – Some simple misdemeanor assaults can be turned into aggravated felony assaults in Arizona on the basis of the nature of the victim. Certain people are given special legal protection from assault. If a person with special legal protection is assaulted, then the simple misdemeanor assault becomes an aggravated assault. People given this special victim status include children, public employees such as police officers, firemen, or teachers, and healthcare workers, among others.

There are ample other grounds that turn a simple misdemeanor assault into an aggravated assault, but the above examples are the most common.