Assault and Aggravated Assault Both assault and aggravated assault charges in Florida involve one person threatening another. The key difference between the two is usually whether a weapon was involved. We take a look at each of these charges and explain why it’s important to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney if you have been accused of either crime.

Assault Is the Less Serious Charge

If someone verbally or physically threatens another person, and that person fears for their safety as a result, the person issuing the threat could be charged with assault—regardless of whether the accuser suffered any physical harm. Assault is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida and is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

In order to convict someone of assault, the State has to prove that:

  • The accused intentionally threatened by word or act to do violence to the victim.
  • At the time of the threat, the accused appeared to have the ability to carry out the threat.
  • The victim was justified in fearing for their safety.

In other words, empty or meaningless threats of actions that cannot be carried out should not be considered assault. A lawyer can defend a charge of assault by disproving that these conditions existed.

Factors That Turn an Assault Charge Into Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault is a third-degree felony charge and is sometimes referred to as felony assault. It carries penalties of up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, so it is a much more serious charge than misdemeanor assault. The same elements listed above will also have to be proven to convict someone of aggravated assault, with the addition of an aggravating factor.

Factors that can increase an assault charge to a felony include:

  • Use of a weapon. Issuing a threat while in possession of a weapon would likely be considered aggravated assault. While guns and knives are obvious kinds of weapons, other objects, such as broken bottles, baseball bats, and rocks, could also be considered deadly and elevate an assault charge.
  • Level of threat. Threatening a person’s life could be enough to elevate the charge to aggravated assault, even if the victim is not harmed and the accused does not have a weapon.
  • Who the victim is. Any threat issued against an emergency medical provider, firefighter, police officer, or public transit employee is automatically considered to be aggravated assault.
  • Intent to commit a felony. If the accused threatened a person’s safety while intending to commit another felony, such as a robbery or home invasion, the threat could be charged as aggravated assault.

There is some fluidity between these two charges, and a skilled defense attorney can argue for the lesser charge in some circumstances.

What to Do if You Have Been Accused of Assault or Aggravated Assault

If you have been arrested and are facing an assault charge in Okaloosa County, your first step should be to call Flaherty Defense Firm and speak to an attorney. Do not talk to the police without a lawyer, and do not contact your accuser thinking you can work it out on your own. Leave that to your lawyer. In building your defense, our team will:

  • Review the details of the case. There are often two sides to stories involving fights or threats. We will look into the facts of your case and pick apart any loose threads.
  • Argue for lesser charges. The State often starts out with more serious charges, and it is our job to offer evidence in favor of a lesser charge.
  • Make a case for improper exhibition. If you were in possession of a weapon but did not use it to threaten your accuser, we might be able to make a case for improper exhibition of a weapon, which is a misdemeanor.
  • Fight for the best possible outcome. Regardless of the details of your case, we will work hard to get you the best possible outcome in terms of charges and penalties. That’s our job.

Do not hesitate to call us if you have been accused in Crestview or anywhere in Okaloosa County.

Brandy Merrifield
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney