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Classified as a felony in 49 states, assault with a deadly weapon includes any physical attack in which the attacker uses an object designed to inflict serious bodily harm or death. The only holdout is California, which sometimes classifies assault with a deadly weapon as a misdemeanor, depending on mitigating factors such as whether the victim sustained bodily injury.
What is Assault with a Deadly Weapon?
Sometimes referred to as ADW, some states list assault with a deadly weapon charges as "assault with a dangerous instrument" or "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon." Whichever term your state applies, ADW typically represents the highest assault offense after manslaughter or murder.
Striking someone with your closed fist comprises the most common example of assault. Legally, this includes any unwanted contact with a victim, whether through intentional, knowing, or reckless conduct. However, even the threat of assault with a deadly weapon may be deemed sufficient to be charged with aggravated assault. For example, pointing a gun at a person and threatening to shoot will earn you an assault with a deadly weapon charge in many states.
Intentional conduct means that you intended to break the law when you assaulted someone. Knowing conduct is when you know that your actions violate the law. Reckless conduct is that which harms another due to your reckless behavior, such causing a person bodily harm while speeding.
What are the Penalties for ADW?
Punishment for violent offenses such as assault with a deadly weapon are more severe than for felonies committed by non-violent offenders. Not only are prison sentences longer, but violent offenders are also paroled later. There is no set prison term for an ADW conviction, as many factors determine sentencing, such as the victim's age and extent of his or her injuries. Terms range from a low end of two years to a high end of 30 years. Additionally, these convictions usually have lifelong consequences as regards current or future employment, housing, professional licensing, and even funding for education.
Further differences in sentencing and charges stem from the type of weapon used in the assault and any aggravating factors. Of course, each state has its own rules governing assault with a deadly weapons charges and penalties. To demonstrate these differences, we will look at three different states: Arizona, California, and Pennsylvania.
ADW Penalties in Arizona
In Arizona, assault with a deadly weapon is a Class 3 felony and carries a sentence of no less than five years, and up to 15 years, in prison. Additionally, those convicted of ADW face up to $150,000 in fines.
Assault with a deadly weapon becomes a Class 2 felony if the victim is a child under 15 years of age, a peace officer, or a prosecutor. The penalty includes a minimum sentence of seven years in prison, with a maximum sentence of 21 years. Class 2 felony convictions may also receive monetary fines up to $150,000.
Aggravating factors may increase these penalties and include the manner or method of the attack, whether the victim was elderly or disabled, and if the victim's family suffered harm. Prior violent offenses may also increase penalties. However, mitigating factors such as the defendant's age and mental capacity may decrease penalties assigned in a Class 2 or Class 3 felony conviction.
ADW Penalties in California
In California, ADW charges may be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on numerous factors, including: the type of instrument used in the assault, whether the victim sustained injury, the severity of the victim's injury, and whether the victim was a member of a "protected" class.
If the assault with a deadly weapon charge is classified as a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is one year in county jail. Basic felony charges carry a penalty of one to four years in state prison. Sentences increase if the victim is in protected class. If the assault involved the use of a firearm, the perpetrator is charged with assault with a firearm, which also carries stiffer penalties.
ADW Penalties in Pennsylvania
Aggravated assault not involving serious bodily injury is a second degree felony in Pennsylvania, carrying penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000. Assaults causing serious bodily injury are first degree felonies resulting in up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
If you face assault with a deadly weapon charges, schedule a free consultation with a criminal defense attorney today, preferably one with experience defending people accused of violent crimes. Bring all pertinent information to your initial consultation, as well as pen and paper to record the attorney's answers to your questions.