What Is Assault?

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What Is Assault?

In criminal law, assault is usually listed alongside battery. Many people are familiar with the term “assault and battery,” and battery is often confused with assault. However, assault is a separate charge from battery. It is generally defined as an attempted battery.  Alternatively, it can be defined as “the intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of harm.”

While this sounds very complex, assault basically refers to situations where one person creates a fear of harm in another person. For example, if a person pulls their fist back as if to punch someone, and the other person believes that they will be punched, it might be considered assault. Battery, on the other hand, would occur if the person was actually punched.

In an assault case, standard criminal defenses may apply, such as self-defense, intoxication, duress, etc. 

What Is Needed to Prove Assault?

When answering the question of “what is assault?” it’s important to note that there are two definitions of battery: an attempted battery, and “the intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of harm.” Regarding this last definition, the elements of proof are explained as followed:

  1. Intentional: The defendant needs to act intentionally in “scaring” or threatening the other person into believing that the harm is immediate. Accidental or unintentional acts do not count as assault;
  2. Reasonable Apprehension: Reasonable apprehension means that the victim apprehends or perceives that a harm or threat of harm is being directed toward them. Thus, if the victim isn’t aware of the threat (such as when a person aims a weapon at them behind their back without them knowing), it may not be enough to prove an assault
  3. Harm: The harm can be either a threat of physical harm (such as a punch or kick, etc.), or a threat of unwanted, offensive contact (such as a sexually suggestive touch or embrace).

When proving an assault, the aspect of “reasonableness” often comes into play. For example, if a person is standing 100 yards away and yells, “I’m going to kick you!” it may not be an assault, since it’s unreasonable that the person will actually be struck from such a far distance.  Also, words alone are not enough to constitute assault – it must be accompanied by some sort of physical threat. 

On the other hand, if the other person is standing 10 yards away, holding a rock and threatens to throw it at the person, it may be an assault.  In this case it’s reasonable to assume that the rock might actually make physical contact if thrown.

Is It Necessary to Strike Someone to Be Guilty of Assault?

Based on the legal definition of assault, it may not actually be necessary to physically strike someone in order to be guilty of assault. Again, this is often the result of assault being portrayed wrongly in the media – we often hear the term “brutally assaulted” in films and on television. In such cases, the legal charges will probably be battery and not assault, since contact was actually made.

Remember that any intentional act that causes another person to fear that they might be struck or contacted is probably going to be considered assault, not battery. Thus, faking a punch or kick, aiming a weapon (even if fake, so long as other person reasonably believed it was a real weapon), or making a sudden lunge at a person – all these might be considered assault if they were done with the intent of causing the other person to feel a threat of harm.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Assault Charges?

Assault can sometimes be difficult to understand, mostly because of the way that it is misrepresented in popular culture. If you have any legal questions or disputes involving assault, you may wish to contact a criminal lawyer right away. Your attorney can provide you with sound legal advice and can represent you in court if necessary.

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Last Modified: 02-26-2014 04:29 PM PST

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