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Penn State Student's Return to Happy Valley Starts Badly, Sent to Jail With Aggravated Assault Charges

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A Penn State student returned to State College to start the fall semester, and, not unlike many other returning upperclassmen, chose to catch up with friends the weekend before the start of classes by having a few drinks. This young man's weekend allegedly took a turn for the worse when the State College police  attempted to stop him for violating the Open Container town ordinance, which prohibits a person from carrying an open alcoholic beverage within the borough's limits. By carrying a can of Natural Light beer, the police would have had sufficient reasonable suspicion to require the man to stop and submit to an investigative detention. While the violation was minor, the police would still have a legitimate reason to detain and investigate. The investigation led to the discovery that the man was only 19, making him a minor, and thereby meaning that he could also be charged with Underage Drinking, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308.

At some point during the officer's attempt to detain or investigate, things went completely wrong. According to the Penn State University newspaper, The Collegian, the man forcibly and physically tried to get away from the police by allegedly kicking the officer, and at least one officer was left with minor abrasions on his arm.

State College Aggravated Assault Charges Filed

After the man was subdued, he most likely was taken to the Centre County Correctional Facility so the officers could prepare a Police Criminal Complaint, including a felony arrest warrant, and then have the man appear before a Magisterial District Judge for a video arraignment. The man was charged with a felony offense of Aggravated Assault, misdemeanor offenses of Resisting Arrest and Escape, and summary offenses of Underage Drinking and the Open Container violation.

While the officer suffered only relatively minor injuries, the police are able to file felony charges of Aggravated Assault under 18 Pa.C.S.A. 2702(a)(3) if someone attempts to cause or does cause a bodily injury to a police officer during the performance of his or her duties. Pennsylvania law defines "bodily injury" as being "[i]mpairment of physical condition or substantial pain," and an online medical dictionary defines "impairment" as being the "partial or complete loss of, or loss of the function of, a body part, organ, or system."

In my opinion, the issue here is whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant the Aggravated Assault charge. With the officer suffering only minor abrasions, an argument can be made that he did not suffer a "bodily injury," which as noted above, requires substantial pain or loss of function of a body part. However, in order to support a Pennsylvania charge of Aggravated Assault, the district attorney could also argue that the man intended to cause such an injury. For example, if the man strongly kicked at the officer, but the officer was able to avoid the kick, the prosecution could argue that the man's intent to injure was shown by the force of the kick. Again, an assault charge can be based upon either evidence that a bodily injury occurred or that the man intended to cause such an injury by his actions. Hopefully, the man or his family hires an experienced Penn State Aggravated Assault defense lawyer to handle both the criminal charges and the Office of Student Conduct inquiry.

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