Jeffrey E. Johnston

What Is Aggravated Assault?

Over my years of practice, I have found that aggravated assault is one of the most commonly charged violent crimes. I am asked on numerous occasions, "what is aggravated assault"? In this article, I would like to briefly discuss this very broadly defined crime.

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21, a person commits aggravated assault when he or she assaults another person: 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) without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons. The penalty for an aggravated assault is not less than 1 year nor more than 20 years imprisonment. The sentencing judge does have the ability to impose a strictly probated sentence. In other words, jail is not mandatory for aggravated assault convictions. The penalty range does increase depending on the type of victim assaulted. For example, if the victim of an aggravated assault is a law enforcement officer, then the penalty range is from 5 years to 20 years. Furthermore, if the victim of the aggravated assault is 65 years old or older then the penalty range is from 3 years to 20 years.

One of the questions I'm asked quite often is "why didn't that person get charged with attempted murder instead of aggravated assault"? The answer lies in the first part of the aggravated assault definition. If a person assaults another with the intent to murder them, then, by definition, that person may be charged with aggravated assault. Now the prosecutor has the option to bring attempted murder charges; however, aggravated assault is often much easier to prove.

Next, please notice how broadly the offense of aggravated assault is defined. If a person attacks someone with "any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury", then an aggravated assault has been committed. For example, when I was a new prosecutor, I was told of a case wherein our then district attorney tried a person for committing aggravated assault by attacking another person with a boiling pot of collard greens. Let's analyze that scenario. A boiling pot of collard greens is an object. If someone were to use it offensively against another person, then it certainly could cause serious bodily injury. The boiling water in the pot could cause severe burns to another person. Therefore, the use of that strange object to attack another person fits the definition of aggravated assault.

This is a statute I could analyze at length. If you or someone you know is charged with this very serious violent crime, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney because this broad and complex crime has significant consequences.

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Jeffrey E. Johnston

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