When Pennsylvania residents hear the term "assault," they may picture a physical altercation between people. This is not necessarily the case. Some people may be surprised to learn that the actual definition does not always include physical contact with another person.
Most of the time, someone does not need to make physical contact with another person for an assault to take place. According to FindLaw, assault occurs when someone threatens to harm other people or tries to hurt them. Most of the time, a person's intentions determine whether an assault has happened. This means that if someone intentionally used words or behavior that could be interpreted as a threat, then that person may be charged with assault. Someone may also commit this crime if he or she issues a threat which is accompanied by an action that makes other people fear they are not safe.
The severity of an assault charge depends on the particular incident. FindLaw says that most of the time, assault is considered a second-degree misdemeanor. A person may be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor if he or she tries to hurt children younger than 12. An assault can also be a third-degree misdemeanor if people willingly engaged in a fight. People may need to pay a fine, and someone charged with a first-degree misdemeanor may also receive a five-year prison sentence.
Sometimes people might be charged with aggravated assault. This offense is usually more serious than a basic assault charge. People might be charged with this offense if they tried to hurt teachers or members of law enforcement while these people were performing their jobs. The use of a stun gun or tear gas on people in these professions can also turn an assault into an aggravated assault. If someone commits this offense, he or she might be charged with a second-degree felony. A person who harms a member of law enforcement typically commits a first-degree felony. People who commit an aggravated assault may receive a 10 to 20-year prison sentence.