One of the most common crimes that our law firm defends is assault. In Pennsylvania an assault can be either a misdemeanor or a felony charge depending on the extent of a victim’s injuries and/or the intent of the actor. A simple assault is defined as an unlawful touching which means that any use of force against another person could be a crime. An aggravated assault is an unlawful touching with the intent to commit either serious bodily injury or life threatening injuries. While simple assault is a misdemeanor an aggravated assault is either a felony of the first degree or a felony of a second degree depending on the injuries and the intent of the act.
In these cases your criminal defense attorney should always look at the possible defense of self-defense in your case because Pennsylvania, like other states such as New Jersey, permits a person to use “justifiable” force to defend himself or others. In some situations, this legal concept is known as the Castle Doctrine. In the past the Castle Doctrine only applied to situations that occurred in a person’s home but a short time ago Pennsylvania expanded its reach to other areas outside the home.
Like any crime, an assault, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, requires that the Commonwealth (prosecution) prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition to assault the prosecution more than likely charge other crimes such as recklessly endangering another person (REAP) and possession of an instrument of crime (PIC) if a weapon is involved in the incident. If your attorney properly argues that the force you used was justifiable self-defense, however, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that either such force wasn’t necessary or others or that the use of force was unreasonable considering all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. In addition, the prosecution can also meet its burden of proof in these cases if it can show that you provoked the use of force against another person or a person in the immediate proximity of the alleged victim (you started it).
It is very important to understand that the Commonwealth can’t establish either that you used unjustifiable force or that you started the incident it can’t prove its case and the court must find you not guilty. The self-defense is a powerful tool in Pennsylvania and practically every other jurisdiction in the country.
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