Understanding A Simple and Aggravated Assault in Florida

Pursuant to Florida law, the crime of assault is defined under section 784.011 of the Florida Statutes as an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.

In laymen terms: assault is an intentional, seemingly authentic threat that is perceived to be dangerous and makes another person reasonably fearful that there will be an act of violence.

It’s worth noting that a common point of confusion for criminal defendants is the belief that assault and battery are actually the same crime — or that they are necessarily linked. Many criminal defendants might be confused as to why they are being charged for threats that did not lead to an actual physical injury. Though it is certainly true that assault and battery often appear together, in truth, they are two separate and independent crimes.

Battery is perhaps best understood as the completion of an assault, though the interplay of factors is a bit more complicated. For now, assume that assault refers to a threat of violence, and that battery refers to intentional, non-consensual physical contact.

In the state of Florida, assault can be broken down into two categories based on circumstances at the time of the criminal incident: 1) simple (or misdemeanor) assault, and 2) aggravated (or felony) assault. Let’s take a quick look at the relevant law.

Simple Assault

Simple assault is the most basic form of assault — a standard assault situation is a matter of simple assault. Pursuant to section 784.011(2), whosoever commits an assault will be found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor.

It’s important to note that even simple assault requires criminal intent to find the defendant liable (recall that the assault statute demands a requisite intentional, unlawful threat). For example, if you were jogging on a sidewalk and suddenly tripped, nearly collapsing on a pedestrian, then that pedestrian might be reasonably fearful of imminent injury. However, you would likely not be held liable for assault as you evidenced no specific criminal intent to threaten the pedestrian with violence.

Simple assault — as a second-degree misdemeanor — leads to fairly minor penalties on the whole. If you are convicted of simple assault, you could be penalized with up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation, and/or up to a $500 fine for your actions.

Aggravated Assault

Florida law puts aggravated assault a step above in severity to simple assault. Aggravated assault is essentially “assault with a deadly weapon” or “assault during the commission of another felony.” It is also classified as a third-degree felony, which may lead to penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, five years’ probation, and/or up to a $5k fine for your actions.

If you commit assault with a firearm (a specific deadly weapon) — if convicted — then you could face a three-year mandatory minimum sentence. Other deadly weapons, such as long knives, will not expose you the same mandatory minimum issue.

Let’s take a look at the two prevalent types of aggravated assault situations.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Assault with a deadly weapon is rather straightforward. If you commit an assault while brandishing a knife or a gun, for example, then you the imminent threat of harm that you create is more severe, thus leading to the aggravated assault charge. Of course, the mere fact that you are carrying a deadly weapon does not necessarily lead to an aggravated assault charge. If you have a concealed carry license and your weapon is not visible or known to the victim, for example, then your standard assault (i.e., threatening to punch someone) cannot be elevated to aggravated assault.

Assault During Another Felony

If you commit an assault in the midst of committing another felony, then the assault will be elevated to aggravated assault. For example, if you are burglarizing a car, then any intentional and unlawful threat against another person that creates a reasonable fear of imminent harm will qualify as aggravated assault.