An assault can be defined as causing a person physical harm, imposing upon them unwanted physical contact, or threatening or attempting to do so.
An assault is both a crime and a civil wrong and can result in criminal and/or civil liability.
Traditionally, legal systems distinguished the terms ‘assault’ and ‘battery’ by referring to the battery as actual bodily contact and referring to an assault as a situation in which the victim has not been touched but threatened or attempted to be touched. However, many states combine these two offenses into what is known as ‘assault.’
The definition of an ’assault,’ the types of assaults, and the punishments for an assault vary from one state to another. However, there are some common terms that are related to ‘assault.’
Common Terms Related to Assault
Misdemeanor – A less serious assault crime that usually does not involve any serious injury.
Battery – Often referring to the completion of an assault. It is the intentional harming of another person that is done without their consent.
Victim – Anyone who suffers physical, mental, or emotional harm directly by a criminal offense.
Offender – The person reported to have carried out the crime.
Defendant – The person against whom a lawsuit has been filed or who is accused of a crime or offense.
Felony – A crime that involves violence and is regarded much more seriously than a misdemeanor.
Types of Assault
Assaults can be minor (such as a threat), or they can be more severe (as in near fatality). In both cases, the victim fears that they will be harmed. Assaults are classified into two types depending on their severity.
- Simple assault
- Aggravated assault
An attack by an offender with or without a weapon that results in no injury or a minor injury is termed as simple assault. Threats by an act or even a gesture to apply force fall under simple assault.
- An attack without a weapon that results in minor injuries or less than two days of hospitalization falls under simple assault. Minor injury refers to bruises, black eyes, scratches, cuts, and swellings.
- An attack with a weapon, but in which case the victim requires less than two days of hospitalization, is termed a simple assault.
- An attack without a weapon and that does not result in injury is also deemed a simple assault.
- Approaching a person or blocking the way of a person while openly wearing/carrying a weapon or even an imitation of a weapon is termed as simple assault.
An example of a simple assault: Martha is walking along the street with a soda bottle in her hand. Tom is walking down the same street toward Martha. Martha is upset with Tom because he broke up with her to be with her best friend. As Tom approaches, Martha lifts the soda bottle and swings her fist directly toward Tom. Tom runs away and escapes harm. But Martha has committed an assault. Her intentional conduct placed Tom in reasonable fear of immediate bodily harm.
An attack or an attempted attack by an offender with/without a weapon resulting in whether or not the attacked person was injured is termed as an aggravated attack. Here, there is an intent to commit bodily harm to the victim.
- A threat or an attempted attack by an offender sporting a gun, knife, or any other object used as a weapon or in lieu of a weapon but not resulting in any injury to the victim is deemed an aggravated assault.
- An attack by an offender without a weapon but that resulted in a serious injury to the victim falls under aggravated assault. Serious injury refers to lost teeth, internal injuries, broken bones, loss of consciousness, and any injury that requires a hospitalization of two or more days.
An example of aggravated assault: Diana is walking home alone late one night when a man suddenly jumps out of the bushes in front of her, grabs her, and drags her back into the bushes. He hits her a couple of times and rips her clothes off. Diana manages to hit the offender with a rock and runs to safety. The man is guilty of aggravated assault because there is a clear indication that he intended to hurt Diana.
Forms of Assault
While they might not amount to much, the following are assaults that are punishable:
- Verbal threats
- Aggressive postures (like a raised fist or jabbing a finger)
- Screaming/yelling angrily in someone’s face
This is an attempted or an accomplished attack on an individual by using force or violence that causes physical injury to the victim. A weapon is often used in a felonious assault. Felonious assault can include the following circumstances:
- A weapon is used even if an injury does not occur.
- A serious injury that occurs due to the use of the offender’s hands, fists, or feet, but there is no weapon used, is still deemed a felonious assault.
- Both assault and battery occur in a felonious assault, and the victim will need medical attention.
An example of a felonious assault: Mark shoots his gun into the air five times in a crowded street. One of the bullets hits one of the passersby, injuring him severely in the leg. He testified that he was severely traumatized by the incident and was left on crutches for three months.
Another example of a felonious assault: A suspect is being driven away in a police vehicle during his arrest. He spits on the police officer sitting beside him in the car. After running the suspect’s criminal history, it was noted that he suffered from HIV/AIDS. This act made what would have otherwise been a simple offense, into a serious felonious assault. The suspect received 12 years in prison for assaulting a public servant.
Punishment for Felonious Assault
There are several types of punishment for felonious assaults, depending on the severity of the assault:
- Several years in prison
- A fine of $5,000 to $ 10,000
- Several hours of community work
A sexual assault involves rape, sodomy, molestation, or any other sexual offense by using force and against the will of the victim. It includes vaginal, anal, and oral penetration, as well as drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual abuse against children, fondling, torture of a person in a sexual manner, forced sodomy, incest, attempted rape, and groping.
While all states within the United States prohibit sexual assault, the exact definition of the crimes that fall under sexual assault differs from one state to another. While the classification of sexual crimes itself is not very different from one state to another, states have their own sentencing guidelines. Some states even separate the different acts into different categories, while others simply put them all together under one category.
It is not just the non-consensual act between a man and a woman that is considered a sexual assault; involuntary sexual contact between two women, two men, and so on are all considered as sexual assault.
Differences in State Sexual Assault Laws
In Florida, sexual battery covers the act of rape and indecent assault. Regardless of the severity of the crime, the charge is always considered a serious felony. The conviction for sexual battery on a victim under 12 years attracts a conviction of 30 years to life imprisonment.
Sexual assault in California refers to any act that leads to unwanted sexual intercourse.
In Georgia, aggravated sexual battery means the intentional penetration with a foreign object into the sexual organs or anus of a victim without their consent. The penalty includes 25 years of imprisonment that is followed by probation for life and a mandatory sex offender registration. Sometimes, aggravated sexual battery can also include life imprisonment.
Spousal Sexual Assault
Most states within the United States have extended the sexual assault laws to cover even assaults that are perpetrated by spouses.
Verbal assault is a non-physical assault but an oral assault that results in mental, emotional, and/or psychological injury to the victim. There is no physical injury in a verbal assault.
Example of a verbal assault: John is an alcoholic. Every night he screams at his wife and accuses her of stealing his money. He further continues to abuse her family. He even threatens to kill them because he hates them so much. His wife is terrified that he will carry out his threats. She is aware of his violent behavior and knows that he is capable of causing them physical harm. While she puts up with the verbal abuse for a while, the continuous taunting every night leaves her wondering if she were better off if she killed herself. However, she is afraid for her family and decides to stay alive just to protect them as much as she can. She visits a psychiatrist who believes that she suffers from severe anxiety, panic attacks, and extreme depression.
Assaulting United States Government Officers and Employees
Threatening government officials – especially law enforcement officers, can, in some cases, be called an assault. Assaulting a police officer or government official is a Class C felony that is punishable by 1 to 15 years in prison. If a dangerous weapon was used during the assault, the punishment could be from 1 to 25 years in the state prison. Misdemeanors get up to one year in jail, while a felony gets one or more years in prison.
What Happens When Assault Charges are Filed?
When a victim reports a crime to the police, the matter is investigated. The police will either arrest the accused (if there is probable cause for an arrest), or they will turn the reports over to the DA (district attorney), who then decides whether to file charges.
Punishment for Assault and Battery
Punishment for assault and battery vary a great deal and often depend on:
- The laws of the jurisdiction
- The circumstances surrounding the crime
Simple assault is punishable by six months to a year in jail. Each state has its own sentencing statute/guidelines.
Punishment can be as simple as paying a fine and taking part in community service, imprisonment in the country jail, and probation for misdemeanor assaults and some battery charges.
Felony assault charges can lead to imprisonment for 5 to 25 years. Felony charges apply in certain cases if aggravating factors are present in the assault. These factors include:
- Assaulting a police officer
- Assaulting a child or a woman
- Assaults that lead to serious bodily injury
- Assaults of a sexual nature.
Difference in Punishment for First-Time Offenders and Repeat Offenders
First-time offenders get more leniency – perhaps a fine or community service – or even probation. However, for the same crimes, repeat offenders face stiffer penalties.
A perpetrator faces criminal charges when they are booked for assault, but could also face liability and could be sued if the victim:
- Suffered any injury
- Suffered physical distress
- Suffered emotional distress
If a perpetrator is sued, the court could order them to pay the victim for:
- Medical bills
- Compensation for the victim’s sick leave days at work
- Pain and suffering caused to the victim
Defending Yourself Against Assault and Battery Charges
In most cases, individuals who are charged with assault and battery charges defend themselves by claiming they were defending themselves. If claiming self-defense, you are required to prove the below:
- That the other party made a threat of harm or a threat of unlawful force against you.
- That you had a genuine fear of being harmed by the other party.
- That there was no provocation on your part.
- That there was no chance of you escaping or retreating.
Other defenses used to defend an assault and battery charge against offenders includes:
- Lack of intent to harm the victim.
- That the offender acted in defense of their property.
- That the offender lacked the mental capacity to intentionally harm anyone.
- Mutual consent – for example, mutually consensual behavior like a boxing match where the two opponents stick to the rules most of the time and do not deviate from the rules of the game cannot be charged with assault.
A defendant could argue that they were drunk, and, therefore, could not form the specific intent to commit assault. However, in most cases, this type of defense would fail. In most of the jurisdictions within the United States, only involuntary intoxication is an accepted form of defense.
What to Do if You Are Charged with or Arrested for Assault
If you or someone you know has been charged or arrested on the grounds of assault, you must consult with and get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney. An experienced lawyer will possess all the knowledge on how to handle your case, will be able to explain the law in your state, and advise you of all your options.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove to Establish Assault
The prosecutor must prove that the offender intended to cause fear in the mind of the accused. Without intent, there can be no assault.
In the case of felonious assault, the prosecutor must prove beyond doubt one of the following:
- That the offender either attempted to commit an assault or did something to the victim to make the victim fear immediate assault.
- That the offender intended to hurt the victim or made the victim reasonably afraid that he/she was going to hurt them.
- That the offender carried out the assault, appeared capable of carrying out the assault, or that he/she was able to commit the assault.
- That the offender committed the assault using a dangerous weapon.
Remember that an assault is an attempt to commit battery, and requires specific intent to cause physical injury. Since assault requires intent and is considered as an intentional tort, accidental acts do not result in any assault charges.
How Can Being Charged with Assault Affect Your Life?
Although misdemeanors carry less punishment, they will stay on your criminal record for life. They can show up in your background checks at any point in time – unless you attend diversion classes, like an anger management class. If you repeat simple assaults, you will be charged with harassment, which is a graver charge.
Several states require that simple offenders attend anger management classes, as in most cases, a simple assault is triggered by sudden anger. In many cases, a simple assault charge can be dismissed if you agree to attend anger management classes. Something that is done on the spur of the moment – in a sudden burst of anger – need not ruin your life. With the right attorney, you will be able to find a solution that gets you the right help you need.