Homicide & Violent Offenses
Criminal charges for assault often result from the escalation of a verbal fight during an emotional confrontation, poor judgment and erratic behavior due to intoxication or very often, a combination of both. Most people, at one time or another, have said or done something in anger that is out of character and that they later regret. Certainly, violence toward another person which rises to the level of criminal conduct is never ok. However, an isolated lapse in judgment or the irrational response of an otherwise good person in an emotional situation should not warrant a disproportionately severe punitive response.
There are two categories of assault in Pennsylvania, simple assault which is a misdemeanor and aggravated assault which is a felony. Generally, simple assault is an intentional act which causes or constitutes an attempt to cause “bodily injury” to another person. Aggravated assault is most often an intentional act which causes or constitutes an attempt to cause “serious bodily injury.”
The distinction between simple assault and aggravated assault in this context is the level of injury caused or attempted. Bodily injury is generally defined as impairment of physical condition or substantial pain. In contrast serious bodily injury is described as bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death, or that causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. Simply, if a person punches another in the nose and the result is a bloody nose and some bruising, the resulting injury is most likely bodily injury as contemplated by the statute. However, if a person assaults another person so violently as to cause permanent disfigurement or substantial risk of death, then the assault is an aggravated assault.
In many cases the injury caused falls into a grey area that is not clearly bodily injury or serious bodily injury. In fact, even the above example of a punch to the nose may be argued as more than a misdemeanor assault but may also be presented as a lesser charge of summary harassment depending on the specifics of each particular case. This is especially true when the government and the defense are arguing not over an actual injury but one that was merely attempted. In such circumstances it is imperative to have an experienced criminal attorney fighting for you.
In addition, there is another category of aggravated assault. Where someone causes or attempts to cause “bodily injury” to a police officer, probation officer, firefighter, teacher or similar person, while that person is performing their official duties, the government will often charge felony aggravated assault. Despite the fact that the injury caused or attempted only rises to the level of bodily injury these facts will result in a felony assault charge because of the protected class of individual the alleged assault was aimed at.
What separates murder from manslaughter is the state of mind of the person who commits the act. Where the government asserts that the person acted with malice, they will be charged with murder; where there is no malice the charge is likely to be manslaughter. The crime of murder is divided into three categories or degrees:
First degree murder is an intentional killing that is willful, deliberate and premeditated. A conviction for first degree murder carries with it a mandatory sentence of life in prison or death.
Second degree murder, also known as “felony-murder,” occurs when a person engages in a dangerous felony and a killing occurs. Part of the government’s burden in a felony-murder case is that the person knew or should have known that a death might result from the felony. A conviction for second degree murder carries with it a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Third degree murder, sometimes referred to as “black-heart” murder occurs where a person’s actions show a wanton and willful disregard of an unjustified and extremely high risk that their conduct would result in the death or serious bodily injury to another. To make out a case of third degree murder the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual knowingly disregarded a serious risk that they created and by that disregard the person demonstrated an extreme indifference to the value of human life. A conviction for third degree murder carries with it a sentence of up to forty years in prison.
Manslaughter, as opposed to murder, is an unlawful killing that occurs without malice. In Pennsylvania there are two types, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person intentionally kills another without lawful justification, if at the time of the killing the person is acting under a sudden and intense passion or they do so while acting under an unreasonable mistaken belief in the existence of justifying circumstances. A conviction for voluntary manslaughter carries with it a sentence of up to twenty years in prison.
Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person directly causes the death of another person by reckless or grossly negligent conduct. A conviction for involuntary manslaughter carries with it a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Whether you are charged with harassment, simple assault or aggravated assault having an experienced attorney on your side is critical to your ability to defend yourself against the government’s allegations. This is especially true if you have been charged with criminal homicide. The very brief description of the basic elements and the statutory sentences described above does not begin to touch upon the litany of issues required to mount a proper defense against a charge of homicide. Where your life and you liberty hang in the balance it is critical to have an experienced criminal attorney on your side.
I have the knowledge and experience to help you achieve the best possible results. Call 412-238-4050 or click here to schedule a free consultation and we can discuss the specific circumstances of your case. I offer flexible office hours, including evenings to work around your schedule. I look forward to meeting you and discussing with you how I can help.