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What Is Assault?

Assault is typically defined as causing reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful contact. A serious threat of physical violence, therefore, can be considered assault even if there is no contact.

An attempted blow that missed its target could also be considered an act of assault, and when physical contact is made, the charge can be elevated to aggravated assault.

Assault is one of the most common types of violent crime in the United States according to both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics and is often prosecuted at both the state and federal level. Reported instances of assault, battery and aggravated assault often outstrip other crimes such as arson, murder and rape across the U.S.

What Is the Penalty for Assault?

In terms of simple assault, federal law can call for a penalty of imprisonment for a term of up to six months in addition to a fine. If the victim of the assault was under the age of 16, that prison term could be enhanced to one year. However, simple assault is not usually prosecuted under federal law, but rather state law.

Charges of “assault with intent to commit murder” carry a punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment under federal law, while an offense of “assault with a dangerous weapon, with intent to do bodily harm” carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

State law varies widely concerning both simple and aggravated assault. In Louisiana, for example, simple assault charges carry possible penalties including up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $200. In California, simple assault is considered a misdemeanor crime with a penalty of up to six months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Vermont has a unique legal framework concerning simple assault. The penalty is typically up to one year of imprisonment as well as a potential fine of up to $1,000. However, if the offense took place during a fight enacted by mutual consent, the penalty is reduced to a maximum of 60 days imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500.

Common Defenses to Assault Charges

If you’ve been charged with assault, there are several defenses your attorney might consider, especially if the charge is simple assault. One defense frequently used in many criminal defense cases is pressuring the prosecution to provide proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant did in fact assault the plaintiff. If the prosecution lacks hard evidence, assault charges could be less likely.

Another defense might be the claim that the alleged assault was the result of an accident because intent is an important factor in establishing the crime of assault. If the entire offense was accidental, there may be no crime to prosecute in the first place.

Finally, claiming that the assault was a matter of self-defense can also be a successful defense strategy, depending upon the jurisdiction. Self-defense is not always a sound legal defense, depending on the level of threat and provocation.

What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do In Assault Cases?

Some of the ways a lawyer may be able to help you with an assault charge include:

  • Reviewing the police report to see whether there were any problems with police conduct and analyze any investigations that occurred
  • Connecting you with resources such as applicable anger management or substance abuse counseling which might be viewed favorably by the court
  • Raising any defenses against criminal charges that may mitigate or even dismiss any criminal allegations
  • Challenging the introduction of illegally obtained evidence

Do I Need an Assault Lawyer?

The criminal justice system takes violent crime very seriously, and it is important to take all the steps you can to reduce any penalties or other consequences you may face. An assault on your criminal record may affect you for years to come, and may even affect your chances of being able to secure employment.

If you are facing assault charges, whether simple assault, aggravated assault or battery, hiring a criminal defense attorney to represent you is vital. Retaining a lawyer with experience in assault charges who can provide legal advice may improve your chances of winning your case and keeping your criminal record clean.

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