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Assault: Everything You Need To Know

Most states define assault as an act that intentionally places another person in reasonable fear of physical harm. There is no requirement that the victim suffers physical harm for a perpetrator to face assault charges as long as the victim was apprehensive of physical harm. According to Jack Makhitarian of New Mexico Law offices, “The police can intervene and arrest a person for assault even if the defendant didn’t have physical contact with a victim.”

Elements of an assault

The elements required in law for a person to be charged with assault can vary from one state to another. However, there are some general similarities. In most jurisdictions, for a conviction to occur, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant was intentional in making the victim aware or in anticipation of impending physical harm.
  • The victim reasonably believed that the defendant’s conduct would result in physical harm.
  • The victim reasonably believed that the harm was imminent and not just an empty threat.
  • The defendant displayed a kind of behavior implying they intended to inflict physical harm to the victim.   

Assault Case Example

A good example of assault is when someone, say a man named Brian, is walking down the street carrying an empty liquor bottle. While another person, Cate, is coming from the opposite direction. Because of Brian’s reputation as a violent person, Cate is fearful but continues walking. They walk past each other, and nothing happens. While cate could have been in fear of imminent danger, that may not count as an assault.

However, suppose under similar circumstances, Brian yells threats to Cate as they approach each other while brandishing his liquor bottle or even throws it at her and misses her as she runs. In this case, Brian will face assault charges upon arrest. 

Different Assault Charges

Assault charges can vary from one state to another. Therefore, you may want to talk to a lawyer in your state to get a clear understanding of whether you have been assaulted or if you are under investigation for assault charges.

There are two main classes of assault charges across many states; simple and aggravated assault. An assault charge can be elevated to an aggravated assault if the defendant uses a weapon in the commission of the offense. Like simple assault, the law does not require that actual harm be inflicted on the victim for a person to face aggravated assault charges. 

Other instances that may result in aggravated assault include if the assault is against members of a protected class such as law enforcement, social services workers, healthcare providers, elderly persons, and persons living with a disability. 

Penalties and Defenses

Typically, simple assault charges result in a felony offense punishable by less than a one year sentence, fines not exceeding $1,000. An Aggravated assault charge, on the other hand, results in a felony offense upon a conviction, attracting a penalty of one to twenty years in prison and fines that could go up to $5,000.

If you are facing an assault charge, your attorney can explore various options for your defense according to their applicability. Possible defense options include involuntary intoxication, self-defense or when in defense of others, and duress or coercion to commit the offense.