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What Qualifies as a Deadly Weapon?

April 27, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

One of the ways that a person can be convicted of aggravated assault in Pennsylvania is if the prosecutor can demonstrate that a defendant used a deadly weapon during an assault and caused someone to suffer a bodily injury. Being able to convince a jury that an object constituted a deadly weapon can have devastating consequences for a defendant because aggravated assault is charged as second degree felony, while simple assault is only a misdemeanor. For this reason, if you have been charged with assault, it is critical to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you formulate a defense against these types of allegations.

Deadly Weapon Defined

In Pennsylvania, a deadly weapon is defined as:

  • Any firearm, whether or not it is loaded;
  • Any device designed as a weapon that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury; or
  • Any other device which is likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.

Because the statute is so broad, prosecutors often try to demonstrate that even non-traditional weapons satisfy the definition of a deadly weapon for the purposes of aggravated assault. For instance, in a recent case, a Pennsylvania court added mace to the list of objects that can be considered deadly weapons.

Commonwealth v. Chambers

Last week, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an opinion, in which it concluded that mace could qualify as a deadly weapon under the aggravated assault statute, although whether it satisfies the definition depends on how it was used. This case involved a defendant who used mace on another party during a fight. According to the court, even if the mace does not qualify as an inherently deadly weapon, it became one in this situation because of the way in which it was used. This is true even though mace does not cause permanent injuries on its own. For instance, in this case, the victim did not suffer any permanent damage as a result of being sprayed with the mace. However, he did suffer from other serious injuries because it was used to incapacitate him, which in turn allowed the defendant to continue his assault.

As a result of this ruling, an object, such as mace, can qualify as a deadly weapon in an aggravated assault case if:

  • The alleged victim suffers serious bodily injury as a result of its use; or
  • The mace was used to incapacitate the alleged victim, so that he or she could be injured further.

If a court determines that an object used during an altercation qualifies as a deadly weapon, the defendant could face serious sentencing enhancements in addition to a felony conviction.

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

The recently decided case of Commonwealth v. Chambers could have a significant effect on what types of objects are considered deadly weapons in aggravated assault cases. If you were recently arrested for assault, please contact an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim by calling (215) 486-0123 or by sending us a brief message.


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