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What Is Assault?

Key Takeaways:

  • Assault is an intent to cause apprehension of bodily harm or contact.
  • Simple assault can be a misdemeanor or felony, but aggravated assault is usually a felony.
  • Self-defense and defense of others are legal defenses to assault charges.

Assault and battery are commonly used together, but there are differences. Different state laws treat the terms differently. The main difference between assault and battery is intent and whether there was physical contact. There are also levels of assault, depending on the circumstances.

Criminal laws for assault can be different depending on where you live. For questions about criminal assault charges in your state, talk to a local criminal defense attorney.

What Is the Definition of Assault?

Some jurisdictions define assault as an act intended to cause reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or offensive contact. This does not require any physical contact to actually happen. In other jurisdictions, assault means an attempt to injure another person.

Regardless of physical contact, an assault requires an intentional act. Verbal threats on their own are generally not enough to constitute assault. However, throwing a punch (whether you make contact or not) can result in an assault charge.

An assault charge doesn’t always require that the person intend to do physical harm. In some cases, the intent to scare another person is enough to be assault. Even if you attempted battery as a joke, if the victim doesn’t know it’s a joke, it can still be assault.

What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

Assault is usually an attempt to harm another person or make them fear bodily harm. Battery is intentional, physical contact that is offensive or harmful. Battery doesn’t necessarily need to cause actual harm to the victim. Many types of non-consensual contact can constitute battery.

Battery is intentional, non-consensual, and offensive. In some cases, spitting on another individual could lead to battery charges. The offensive or harmful contact also doesn’t need to be direct. Intentionally throwing an object at someone could also be battery.

Battery also requires the intent to physically touch the victim. You don’t have to intend to cause harm to the victim, only contact. For example, suppose you intentionally grab another person’s wrist to keep them from leaving in the middle of an argument. It could be battery, even if you did not want to cause harm. In some cases, negligent or reckless acts are also labeled as battery.

What Are the Criminal Penalties for Assault?

The penalties for an assault conviction can include jail time, fines, and a criminal record. For domestic violence assault, you may also be subject to a restraining order to prevent contact with the alleged victim.

What Is Aggravated Assault?

Some states separate charges into different types of assault. The most serious level is first-degree assault — sometimes called aggravated assault. Aggravated assault usually involves the use of a dangerous weapon or the intent to commit a serious crime. The assault generally also involves extreme disregard for human life and causing serious bodily harm to the victim.

In other jurisdictions, the identity of the victim can change from assault to aggravated assault. An assault against a police officer or firefighter could be aggravated. A physical attack against an elderly person can also be an aggravated assault.

Assaults based on the victim’s protected status, such as race, religion, or sexual orientation, can fall into the category of hate crimes. There can be greater criminal penalties for hate crimes.

What Are Second and Third-Degree Assault?

Second-degree assault is a lesser charge than aggravated assault. Second-degree assault can also involve using a dangerous weapon. However, the intent behind the assault is usually what makes the difference between aggravated and second-degree assault. The level of bodily harm for second-degree assault may be lower than in an aggravated assault.

A third-degree assault might be considered the least serious level of offense in some states. A third-degree assault may involve injuries that are not physical, such as mental or emotional trauma that can result in PTSD. A third-degree assault may also involve failed attempts at injuring another individual.

Aggravated Assault and Simple Assault

Some states, including California and Texas, do not separate assault into three levels. The offense is divided into different categories: aggravated assault and simple assault. If the act does not qualify as aggravated assault, it is simple assault, which could be a misdemeanor offense.

Criminal Assault Defense

There are legal defenses to criminal assault charges, including self-defense and defense of others. Use of force can be justified if you had a reasonable fear that assault was necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to yourself or someone else.

A criminal defense lawyer can review your case and find the best criminal defense strategies based on your state’s assault laws. Your lawyer can also help with a plea bargain to keep you out of county jail and avoid the most serious penalties. Contact a local criminal defense lawyer for legal advice about your case.

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