Do you or a loved one face an allegation arising from an incident where another person suffered severe injuries? That might leave you wondering about the difference between aggravated assault and attempted murder charges. The District Attorney will ultimately choose which charge to file based on the circumstances of what happened and the strength of the evidence in the case.
These two charges are similar, and both carry significant consequences in Pennsylvania. If convicted of either crime, you or your loved one could spend a decade or more in prison and pay thousands of dollars in fines. Therefore, you will want a strong, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney if you face either charge. However, there are also differences you should understand.
Understanding What Each Charge Means
It is crucial to know what each charge entails to understand the difference between aggravated assault and attempted murder under Pennsylvania law. Both involve one person harming another person. However, it is essential to remember that only one requires that the defendant had the intent to kill.
Under Pennsylvania law, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2702(a)(1), aggravated assault occurs when a person attempts to cause “serious bodily injury” to another individual. It also covers situations where the accused caused such injuries “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” in a way that showed they had “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Aggravated assault differs from the lesser charge of simple assault because the accused either acted knowingly, used a deadly weapon during the incident, or acted out against a public official.
Depending on what happened, aggravated assault can be a first- or second-degree felony. Sentences would include significant fines and up to 10 years in prison if the victim sustained no injuries. However, severe injuries could result in longer periods of incarceration.
You can find the Pennsylvania statutes that define homicide under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 25. This section dictates the severity of a murder charge based on the facts of the case. For example, if you kill someone while committing another felony such as assault, you could face second-degree murder charges. Attempted murder in PA is always attempted first-degree murder.
In addition, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 901 spells out the legal definition of attempt, which involves intentionally taking “a substantial step” toward the commission of a crime. Thus, you would face attempted murder charges if the prosecution has strong enough evidence to show that you:
- Intended to kill or harm another person
- Took steps toward accomplishing this goal
- Inflicted severe bodily injuries
Examples of Attempted Murder
While these cases each depend on their unique circumstances, attempted murder cases often involve factors such as:
- Hurting someone with a firearm, knife, or another deadly weapon
- Intentionally putting someone in a fatal situation
- Using a weapon on a vital part of the body (like the head or torso)
All attempted murder charges are first-degree felonies, with a conviction resulting in up to 20 years in prison. In addition, you could face up to 40 years if the victim did suffer severe injuries.
For a free legal consultation, call 215.515.3360
Intent Is the Primary Difference Between These Charges
As the definitions show, the primary difference between aggravated assault and attempted murder is the prosecution’s ability to prove intent— regardless of whether the victim sustained any injuries. In short:
- The charge will be attempted murder if the prosecutor can prove you intended to kill the victim
- The charge will likely be aggravated assault if the evidence shows you intended to seriously injure the victim or the prosecutor can only prove a lesser intent
For example, if the defendant is really angry at a person and shoots them in the foot to cause them pain, then they might only be prosecuted for aggravated assault, but if the defendant aimed or did shoot them in the stomach, they would very likely be prosecuted for attempted murder. The difference is whether the prosecution can prove that the defendant intended to kill the victim.
Who Decides Whether to Pursue Aggravated Assault or Attempted Murder Charges?
The District Attorney prosecuting the case will likely make this call. If they believe you or your loved one only planned and intended to cause serious bodily injury, the charge may only be aggravated assault. Remember, attempted murder is always a premeditated murder where the person did not die.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You Fight These Charges
If law enforcement officers interview you about a run-in that led to injuries or threats of violence, you might want to work with an attorney familiar with the difference between aggravated assault and attempted murder. It may be possible to avoid charges, face lesser charges, or negotiate a plea agreement.
While both charges call for incarceration and fines, the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines require more significant penalties for attempted murder convictions. In addition, there are serious social consequences that come along with an attempted murder charge. These are only two of the reasons why you might prefer facing an aggravated assault charge.
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Negotiate a Lesser Charge
It may be possible for your attorney to convince prosecutors to charge you with aggravated assault instead of attempted murder—especially if the evidence to show premeditation and intent is weak.
In addition, an attorney could help you strike a deal:
- To have the charges dropped
- To plead to a lesser charge
- To get a sentence reduction
Alternatively, you could go to trial and present a defense that shows you did not intend to kill someone or were defending yourself when their injuries occurred.
Speak to an Attorney From Our Team About Your Case Today
The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC, provides free consultations for those facing allegations of a serious crime in Pennsylvania. We are here for you and your family as you tackle accusations of aggravated assault, attempted murder, or other violent acts. Call now for your free consultation with our team.