When facing an assault charge, the most serious direction for this legal accusation to take is for the individual involved to be charged with aggravated assault. In general, people charged with aggravated assault can expect to face steeper legal penalties than those "merely" accused of assault. For one, it is more likely that an aggravated assault charge will lead to the accused being tried for a felony.
Assault is variously defined in different legal systems as the stating of the intention to commit violence against another person, an attempt to do so, or an act which causes another person to apprehend such an occurrence or intention on the part of the accused. An implication of the wide definition generally understood for assault is that a wide variety of acts can also come under the heading of assault, and the existence of the concept of an aggravated assault charge is meant to provide for the disparity that can exist between, for instance, acts involving relatively insubstantial tools or generalized threats as opposed to those involving highly threatening weapons or explicit proposals to commit exceptionally harmful or distressing acts.
Another way in which a straightforward assault charge and a charge of aggravated assault can be distinguished from each other is by understanding the first as the threat to commit a violent act and the second as the same threat backed up by the possession of the physical means with which to accomplish it.
An assault charge that prosecutors choose to see as being aggravated may be referred to as a "simple" assault. Because of the lesser degree of harmful intentions or methods implied by the filing of a simple assault charge, one circumstance in which such cases often occur is when harm is caused or threatened by the marked negligence of the defendant, such as in the use of a weapon or other device known to be harmful in a manner likely to cause injury.
Another form of physical contact which may result in an assault charge is an unwanted and offensive form of physical contact which occurs without violence, but with some element of physical fear.
Because of the difference in degree between a simple assault charge and an aggravated assault charge, one major difference consists of the likely course to be taken by the prosecution. People charged with aggravated assault are likely to be prosecuted for a felony, while a simple assault charge generally takes the form of a misdemeanor.
The felony conviction of a defendant charged with aggravated assault is most likely to be enforced through at least one or two years in a State prison, while a less severe assault charge may result in the convicted defendant being required to spend a short term in a local jail, to pay restitution to the victim, or contribute some form of community service. An assault charge cannot lead to a stripping of civil rights, but it can lead to the loss of privileges.