Differences in Legal Penalties: Aggravated Assault vs Simple Assault

Todd Bennett
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Aggravated assault and simple assault are both serious violent crimes. However, aggravated assault often carries harsher legal punishments due to the violent nature of the crime.

In this article, we will examine the key differences in sentencing guidelines, potential penalties, and incarceration statistics between these two assault charges.

Definition of Assault Charges

Simple Assault

This charge is defined as an attempt or threat to physically harm another person. Simple assault does not involve actual physical contact or serious bodily injury.

Some examples include menacing gestures, raised fists, and verbal threats of violence that make the victim fear imminent bodily harm. Most simple assaults are classified as misdemeanors.

Aggravated Assault

This charge is defined as an assault involving the intent to cause serious bodily injury by using a deadly weapon or dangerous object. Actual serious harm or injury usually results from physical violence with a weapon.

These assaults are categorized as felonies due to the vicious nature of the attack, weapon use, and severity of injuries.

Sentencing Guidelines

Simple Assault

Sentencing for misdemeanor simple assault may include:

  • Up to 1 year in jail or prison
  • Monetary fines up to $1000
  • Probation period up to 5 years
  • Anger management counseling
  • Substance abuse treatment

States have tiered penalty systems for misdemeanors. Penalties are harsher if the assault involves a minor or police officer victim. Previous assault convictions can also increase punishments.

Aggravated Assault

Felony aggravated assault penalties may include:

  • Prison time ranging from 2-20 years
  • Monetary fines up to $10,000
  • Probation up to 10 years
  • Mandatory counseling sessions

Like misdemeanors, states implement a tiered system for felonies based on circumstances of the assault, use of weapons, extent of injuries, and prior records. Prison time over 20 years or life is possible for the most extreme aggravated assault cases.

Factors Impacting Sentencing

Both simple and aggravated assault sentencing depends on certain factors about the crime:

  • Weapon involved – Use of a deadly weapon escalates charges
  • Intent – Was the assault premeditated or an act of sudden rage?
  • Injuries sustained – More severe injuries increase punishment
  • Vulnerable victim – Assaults on children, elderly, or disabled face stiffer penalties
  • Prior criminal record – Repeat offenses lead to tougher sentencing

Judges have some discretion on sentencing terms based on the unique aspects of each assault case. But general sentencing guidelines provide a framework for punishments appropriate to the charges.

Statistical Differences in Convictions & Incarcerations

Conviction Rate Disparity

According to Department of Justice statistics:

  • 65% of aggravated assault cases result in criminal conviction
  • 21% result in community supervision sentence
  • 44% result in prison sentence

Meanwhile for simple assault:

  • 44% result in a conviction
  • 29% lead to a community supervision sentence
  • 15% receive a prison term

There is a clear discrepancy between the higher conviction rate for aggravated assault compared to simple assault. The increased likelihood of a harsher prison sentence for aggravated assault is also evident.

Incarceration Statistics

Bureau of Justice figures show:

  • 16,554 individuals were incarcerated in state prisons for aggravated assault as their most serious offense
  • An estimated average sentence length of 7.2 years for those inmates
  • Only 1,421 incarcerated for simple assault as most serious offense
  • An average sentence of 3.6 years for simple assault convictions

So while both crimes can lead to prison time, incarceration rates and sentence length is substantially higher for perpetrators of aggravated versus simple assault.

Recidivism Rates

Recidivism or reoffending rates also differ between the two charges:

  • Within 3 years of release, 25.6% of aggravated assault convicts were rearrested for a similar offense
  • Within 3 years, 20.5% of simple assault convicts were rearrested for reoffending

This indicates convicted aggravated assault perpetrators are at higher risk for attacking again after release compared to simple assault convicts. Given the increased threat to public safety, it makes sense that aggravated assault sentencing keeps these violent offenders confined longer.

Key Takeaways

In summary, the elevated violence and harm inflicted during aggravated assault translates to sterner sentencing practices. Assailants face longer prison terms and higher monetary fines for aggravated assault felonies compared to simple assault misdemeanors.

Rates of conviction, incarceration, and recidivism are all much higher as well. These legal penalties and statistics clearly reflect how the criminal justice system classifies aggravated assault as a far more serious and condemnable violent crime than simple assault.


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Todd Bennett is a five-year criminal defense attorney. He is dedicated to defending the accused and has won several criminal cases. Todd Bennett uses his significant criminal justice experience to create customized defense tactics for each client. Todd Bennett frequently speaks at legal gatherings, offering his criminal defense expertise and staying abreast of industry advancements. Criminal defendants trust Todd Bennett's vigorous advocacy and commitment to client success.