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Possible Changes to Pennsylvania Assault Law to Protect Children

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The Pennsylvania legislature is currently considering a proposal to amend the Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault laws to impose stiffer punishments for assault charges against children. The proposed changes were just approved by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and still must be considered by the entire House.

Pennsylvania Simple Assault

Under the current Simple Assault law, found at 18 Pa.C.S. §2701, there is no distinction made for the age of the victim. A charge of Simple Assault is generally a second-degree misdemeanor, but, if the victim is under 12 and the assailant is over 21, then the charge is graded as a first-degree misdemeanor. The difference in the possible punishment between a first and second-degree misdemeanor is great, with a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 5 years incarceration and a $10,000.00 fine whereas a second-degree misdemeanor has a maximum sentence of 2 years incarceration and a $5,000.00 fine. The proposed amendment is not a huge change but instead simply expands the number of people subject to the first-degree misdemeanor charge by reducing the age of the assailant to 18, so anyone 18 years or older that causes or attempts to cause a bodily injury to someone under the age of 12 is subject to the increased punishment.

Proposed Additions to Pennsylvania Aggravated Assault

The proposed changes to the Aggravated Assault law, found at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702, are slightly more drastic as they are not really minor changes to the existing law but are instead additions to impose much more severe penalties to cases in which the victims are very young. One proposed change provides that a person that recklessly causes or attempts to cause a bodily injury to a child under 4 years old can be charged with a felony of the first-degree. A first-degree felony is punishable by up to 20 years incarceration and a $25,000.00 fine. A person that recklessly causes or attempts to cause a serious bodily injury to a  child under the age of 12 can be charged with a second-degree felony and thereby faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years incarceration and a $25,000.00 fine. A felony conviction also results in the imposition of numerous collateral consequences , such as a lifetime prohibition of the possession of firearms.

Good or Bad Changes to Assault Law?

Many people probably assume that a State College criminal defense lawyer would oppose the proposed amendments to the Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault laws, but I actually support the changes. As a defense lawyer, I am not necessarily opposed to laws that punish criminal behavior. My role as a defense attorney is to protect the constitutional rights of my clients and thereby make  sure that the prosecution and police follow the law. I also make sure that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove that my client violated the law beyond a reasonable doubt. As a parent, I understand the vulnerability of young children and support increasing the severity of punishment of crimes that target or impact children. If a person causes bodily injury to a child that is less than 4 years old, I believe that the penalty should be severe. I do foresee issues arising in the future when a parent claims to have imposed corporal punishment and the prosecution alleges abuses, but those issues are already present in the system. The only now difference will be that the person faces a felony charge as opposed to a misdemeanor.

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