Arizona law includes a number of crimes under the general heading of assault. The basic offense consists of intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing, or placing another person in fear of, physical injury. It also includes touching another person with intent to injure, or even to insult or to provoke, that person. Each of those offenses, without more, is a misdemeanor: assault as an insult or provocation is a class 3 misdemeanor; a reckless assault is a class 2 misdemeanor; and an intentional or knowing assault is a class 1 misdemeanor.

In a number of situations, an assault can become aggravated. The most common example is when the victim suffers serious physical injury. Numerous other circumstances may lead to a charge of aggravated assault, among them assault using a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument. The stakes are much higher with this offense, which is ordinarily a class 3 felony.

In any event, a recent article discusses an alleged attack in Mesa, in which a man was charged, according to the newspaper, with assaulting a “friend” with a hedge trimmer. The article states that the suspect had been kicked out of his friend’s house, a scuffle ensued, and the police were called. The primary charge against the suspect was described as aggravated assault with a “deadly weapon.”

Under A.R.S. 13-105, the term “deadly weapon” is defined as anything designed for deadly use. The most common example would be a gun or other firearm. “Dangerous instrument”, on the other hand, means anything readily capable of causing death or serious injury under the circumstances in which it is used, or attempted or threatened to be used. It seems fairly clear that the hedge trimmer, in this case, would be classified, if anything, as a dangerous instrument, and not as a deadly weapon. While it may (and probably will) be argued that a hedge trimmer might not fit either statutory definition, the important thing to recognize is that just about anything can be classified as a dangerous weapon, even items ordinarily as innocuous as a tennis racket, a bowling ball or even a flashlight. The issue is not only what the item is, but what the circumstances were under which it was used.

In the Mesa case, the defendant may argue that he was simply waving the hedge trimmer in the air, perhaps taking a break from his gardening chores, and that nothing he did would suggest he meant any harm. On the other hand, a witnesses contends that the suspect jabbed his friend in the stomach with the tool while announcing that he was going to kill him. That’s what the statute is talking about when it refers to the surrounding circumstances!

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