Common Defenses for Assault with a Deadly Weapon Charges
Assault with a deadly weapon is a serious criminal offense that involves using or threatening to use a deadly weapon to cause injury or harm to another person. While the exact laws and penalties vary by state, assault with a deadly weapon is generally considered a felony offense and can result in substantial fines and years in prison if convicted.
However, there are several legal defenses that can potentially beat these types of charges or have them reduced to a lesser offense. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the nuances of assault law and investigates the details of your case is essential for mounting an effective defense. Here are some of the most common defenses used for assault with a deadly weapon charges:
One of the most common and powerful defenses for assault charges, including those involving a deadly weapon, is self-defense. The legal standard for self-defense is that a person can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others from imminent bodily harm. This means that if the alleged victim was the aggressor and you only used as much force as reasonably necessary to stop the threat, a self-defense claim may defeat the charges.
Factors like the size and strength of the people involved, their relative fighting abilities, and any weapons present all come into play when determining if force was reasonable and necessary. Self-defense applies both when protecting yourself and defending another person from harm.
However, the amount of force used must match the level of threat – you can’t use deadly force just to defend against minor injuries. There are also “stand your ground” laws in some states that remove the duty to retreat before using force in self-defense.
No Deadly Weapon Involved
The definition of a deadly weapon varies but generally includes guns, knives, and objects capable of causing serious bodily injury or death. If you can show the item used does not meet the legal definition of a deadly weapon, the charges may be reduced from aggravated assault to simple assault.
Similarly, if no weapon was involved at all and you are charged with assault with a deadly weapon, challenging the deadly weapon element could lead to dismissed or reduced charges.
Provocation by the Victim
If the alleged victim provoked you or initiated the confrontation, it may provide a defense to assault charges in some cases. This is similar to self-defense but applies when the victim was the initial aggressor through actions like threats, insults, or physical aggression. Responding to provocation with a reasonable level of force may excuse the assault.
Voluntary intoxication is not an absolute defense but in some cases being impaired from alcohol or drugs may negate the intent required for an assault conviction. The level of intoxication must be substantial enough that a jury believes you were unable to form the requisite criminal intent.
This defense also usually requires showing the intoxication was involuntary, such as someone spiking your drink without your knowledge. Otherwise, self-induced intoxication alone is not a defense.
If the alleged victim consented to the physical contact, it may provide a defense to assault charges, even if injury occurred. This is most applicable for contact sports and recreational activities where participants willingly engage in conduct that could otherwise be considered assaultive.
Make sure the “victim” consented to the actual conduct at issue and did not exceed the scope of consent. Consent to minor contact doesn’t justify aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
A claim of misidentification asserts that you are not the person who committed the alleged assault. Eyewitness misidentification is a common cause of wrongful convictions. If you can show you were misidentified as the assailant, it may defeat the charges.
In limited circumstances, having a mental disease or defect may provide a defense to assault charges. The illness must prevent you from understanding the nature of your actions or knowing right from wrong. Simply having a mental illness diagnosis does not automatically make this defense applicable.
False Accusations & Fabricated Evidence
Many assault allegations arise from personal disputes and relationships gone bad. If you are falsely accused because of bias, revenge, or as leverage in a divorce or custody battle, exposing fabricated evidence and motive can defeat the charges.
Negotiating Lesser Charges
Rather than completely defeating the charges, your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecution to get assault with a deadly weapon charges reduced to simple assault or another lesser offense. This avoids the severe penalties of a felony conviction. Lesser charges may also be appropriate if there are mitigating factors like provocation or lack of serious injury.
If convicted, presenting mitigating circumstances such as having no prior record, positive employment history, or family obligations at sentencing can potentially reduce the penalties imposed. While not a full defense, sentencing mitigation may lower fines and jail time. Remorse and accepting responsibility at sentencing also helps reduce punishment.
Seeking Counsel Early is Key
Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer at the earliest possible stage is critical for mounting an effective defense to assault charges. An attorney can evaluate defenses, investigate the circumstances, interview witnesses, negotiate with prosecutors, and protect your rights through every phase of the case.
Do not wait to consult legal counsel – the actions you take immediately after being accused can determine the strength of your defense. Invoke your right to remain silent, do not discuss the allegations with anyone except your lawyer, and let your attorney handle communications with police and investigators.
With serious felony charges like assault with a deadly weapon, the stakes are high. An aggressive defense is essential to avoid lengthy prison time and the collateral consequences of a conviction. Each case has unique facts and circumstances for your attorney to leverage in building defenses and negotiating the best resolution.