Assault is a term for a legal charge. In criminal law, an assault is broadly when someone intentionally puts another person in danger of imminent bodily harm or offensive contact. A physical injury isn’t required to characterize something as assault, but the perpetrator must have intended to cause an offensive or harmful contact with the victim.
Intention means that the act isn’t an accident, but the reason doesn’t matter. For example, it doesn’t matter if something was done as a joke or just “scare” the victim. The contact doesn’t need to have been meant to be harmful or offensive under the legal definition. What’s relevant is just that the contact itself was intended.
There’s a term called reasonable apprehension within the context of criminal assault too. This is a referral to the reasonable belief by the victim that the act would lead to imminent offensive or harmful contact.
A victim doesn’t have to experience fear. They just have to show they were aware contact could occur.
Harmful or offensive means that the touching is likely to cause harm or offend a reasonable person through the violation of social standards of acceptable touching.
In tort law, which is personal injury law, an assault is considered an intentional tort. Some places call assault attempted battery. Assault is often paired with battery, referred to singularly as assault and battery.
The following are legally some other things to know about assault and the types of assault under the law.
Simple vs. Aggravated Assault
Under criminal law in a lot of states, an assault can be classified as simple or aggravated. This can be based on how serious the harm that occurs to the victim or if the attacker actually strikes the person who is their victim.
A simple assault may criminally have misdemeanor penalties. A simple assault is, in some states, called a misdemeanor assault. The crime involves the threat of immediate harm or, in some cases, a physical act leading to mild injuries.
If you were to raise your hand as if you were going to slap someone, that could be a simple assault, even if you didn’t actually do it.
Aggravated assault is a felony. This category of assault may involve serious bodily harm, or it could be something committed with a weapon. If there’s an intent to commit a serious crime, like rape, this would also likely be considered aggravated assault.
First Degree Assault
The term first-degree assault refers to something more serious, and it’s usually defined by state criminal laws. First-degree assault definitions, since they’re defined by the states, can vary but are usually involving the intentional infliction of serious harm on a victim or the intent to create harm using a deadly weapon.
In the majority of states, first-degree assault is characterized as a Class B felony. The punishment guidelines can vary depending on the place, but a conviction of a Class B felony could lead to prison time, significant fines, and the loss of certain rights, like owning a firearm.
There are certain factors many states will look at if they want to increase punishments. For example, they’ll consider the type of weapon used, especially if it was illegal or modified illegally, and the degree of harm the victim suffered. Even the degree of harm intended is relevant.
If the person was assisted by others in the assault, this is relevant in the punishment, as is whether or not it was a repeat offense. If a defendant has previous convictions for first-degree assault, they’re likely to have a more significant punishment.
If someone is charged criminally with first-degree assault, they might have a legal defense they can claim, such as self-defense, but it depends on the situation. If someone is claiming self-defense, they can’t be the one who started the physical altercation unless there was a clear expression by them to want to disengage from being involved in a physical conflict.
Second Degree Assault
Second-degree assault’s definition again varies depending on the state, but usually is a situation where someone knowingly causes bodily injury to another person. They might knowingly cause injuries with a deadly weapon, or they could be reckless in their behavior, leading to serious physical injury.
Whether a second-degree assault charge is a felony or misdemeanor depends on the facts of the case and also where it occurred since state statutes vary so much.
Self-defense, intoxication, insanity, and entrapment can be defenses to second-degree assault.
Third-degree assault is usually the least serious type in most states. There is the least amount of intentional conduct when describing third-degree assaults. Therefore, this will have the lowest level of punishment. A third-degree assault in most places is a Class A misdemeanor, making it the most serious type of misdemeanor.
Punishments may include a maximum of a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
In some places, a third-degree assault is referred to as a wobbler offense. A wobbler offense can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. The prosecutor will usually decide whether they’re going to charge someone with a felony or misdemeanor.
Factors that can lead to a third-degree assault meaning a felony punishment include repeat assaults, a higher degree of bodily harm either intended or inflicted and the type of weapon used. The victim’s characteristics are also relevant. For example, the punishments are likely to be harsher if someone assaults a minor, a domestic partner, or a police officer.
There are also situations where criminal assault charges can be reduced to the fourth degree, depending on the state and the facts of the case.
Finally, the term battery is a particular type of criminal charge that involves the unauthorized use of force against another person’s body. This doesn’t have to lead to a physical injury. A battery can also be classified into categories, including simple, aggravated, and medical battery.