Arizona Criminal Law and Procedure Blog

Possible Defenses to Aggravated Assault in Arizona

Posted by Steven Sherick | Aug 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

Law enforcement officers must uphold the laws as any other citizen must; they are not above the law. A new case in Arizona illustrates this fact. A Pima County Corrections Officer was charged in June 2017 with aggravated assault of a juvenile. On May 26, 2017, there was a fight between juvenile inmates. The fight was immediately broken up by corrections officers. One of the juveniles was escorted to the medical facility to be evaluated. While handcuffed, he made "vulgar comments to staff members," at which time a "corrections officer struck the juvenile two times." The officer was subsequently charged with aggravated assault.

Regardless of what top politicians might say to encourage police officers to be "rough" with suspects or inmates, there are laws in this country that must be upheld. A criminal complaint has subsequently been filed against the corrections officer, and he has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. Given from what's already known, the corrections officer will need a solid defense in order to defeat the charge(s) against him.

The foundation of a good defense is in the details uncovered when analyzing the evidence, which includes eye witness accounts, recalcitrant witness testimony (when the alleged victim wants to drop the charges, but the State will not, the victim is known as the recalcitrant witness), physical evidence, and character evidence. Common defenses include:

  • Self-Defense. Self-defense is the most common defense. Many times in aggravated assault cases, the "victim" is the one who made the first aggressive move against the defendant. For example, in a very simple yet common scenario, the "victim" may be intoxicated and shoves the defendant, but the defendant blocks the shove and consequently the "victim" falls and injures him or herself. An all-out fight ensues and the original aggressor is the one who suffers the most severe blows and calls 911.
  • Defense of Others. Linked to but unique from the self-defense concept, this defense justifies the use of threats or physical force to protect a person from the threats of another person. The person being defended must have been justified to use self-defense.
  • Unreasonable apprehension of physical injury. In aggravated assault cases where the defendant is charged with a violation by "placing the victim in reasonable apprehension of physical injury, it can be demonstrated through the details of the investigation and analysis of the evidence that the alleged victim indeed was not placed in reasonable apprehension of physical injury because the defendant was not a threat to the alleged victim. The details of the evidence will show that a reasonable person in the same position as the alleged victim would not have felt fear.
  • Constitutional violations. Were there any violations to the defendant's constitutional rights? For instance, were there any Miranda rights violations; were self-incriminating statements coerced, was the defendant denied the right to counsel? Any constitutional violation should be thoroughly explored to support a defense in an aggravated assault case.

According to what's known in the correction officer's case, there are a number of officers who witnessed the assault and cooperated fully with the investigation. One officer who failed to cooperate has already been terminated. As already mentioned, the key to a good defense is in the details of the evidence, including these eye witness accounts. This corrections officer is likely looking for a good attorney to investigate the details of his case in the hopes he won't soon find himself on the same side of the bars as the juvenile he allegedly assaulted.

About the Author

Steven Sherick

Steve Sherick is a "near native" Arizonan having lived most of his life in Tucson.  He received his undergraduate and legal education at the University of Arizona.  Since 1980 he has devoted all of his practice to criminal law, always in defense of those accused of crimes.  He received his Board ...


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