A suspected shoplifter in Woodbridge Mall allegedly stabbed a security guard while trying to get away with stolen goods. While the incident actually happened in New Jersey, the picture it paints sheds light on an important gray area in Pennsylvania criminal law: Whether an assault turns into an aggravated assault simply because the alleged victim is a mall cop.
Suspected Shoplifter Stabs Security Guard at Mall
According to the initial reports, the incident happened on Sunday, May 26, 2019, at the Woodbridge Mall in New Jersey. A man in one of the stores in the mall took property from the store and fled the scene. On his way out, he apparently stabbed one of the mall's security guards.
The guard was taken to the hospital. He was reportedly bleeding, but his overall condition was unknown.
The alleged shoplifter got into a car with four others. The vehicle was stopped shortly thereafter by police.
Some Important Changes to the Details Make an Interesting Legal Issue
The situation raises an interesting legal question about when assault becomes aggravated assault in Pennsylvania. However, several details have to be changed, first.
First, because the Woodbridge Mall is in New Jersey, the criminal laws of New Jersey would have applied to this incident. Our discussion uses Pennsylvania law.
Second, Pennsylvania law already elevates assault to aggravated assault if someone “intentionally… causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.” Therefore, this situation would probably already be an aggravated assault because a knife was used, regardless of whether the alleged victim was a mall security guard. Our discussion ignores this factor.
Does Assaulting a Mall Cop Automatically Make It an Aggravated Assault?
In Pennsylvania, Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2702(a)(2)-(3) turns an assault into an aggravated assault – an offense that comes with steeper penalties – if it is inflicted on particular classes of people.
Those classes of people are listed at § 2702(c). There are an astounding 38 categories of alleged victims that get this unique protection under the law. Most of them are types of law enforcement officer. None of them, though, explicitly covers mall cops or security guards.
However, § 2702(c)(34) turns an assault into an aggravated assault if it is committed against “an individual engaged in the private detective business” according to Pennsylvania's Private Detective Act of 1953.
According to § 2(b)(5) of this Act, “private detective business” includes anyone who gets paid to locate or recover “lost or stolen property” – something which could cover mall security. More pointedly, though, § 2(b)(11) says that furnishing “watchmen, or guards, or private patrolmen… to protect persons or property, or to prevent the theft or the unlawful taking of goods, wares and merchandise” or its misappropriation falls under the kind of “private detective business” that provides legal protection by elevating an assault to an aggravated assault.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
While it seems like assaulting a mall cop would automatically become an aggravated assault, the details matter in cases like these. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer like Joseph D. Lento is the best way to highlight those details. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.