Criminal assault can be defined as either:

  • An attempted criminal battery; OR
  • The “intentional creation” of a “reasonable apprehension” of imminent bodily harm

This last definition sounds complicated; it means that the defendant intended to create an apprehension (perception) of bodily harm that is about to happen immediately. An example is where the defendant points a knife at the victim in a way that makes them believe that they are about to be harmed. Thus, the harm needs to be an immediate danger, not one that might happen far off in the future at a later time.

What Is the Difference Between Criminal and Civil Assault?

The legal definitions for criminal assault and civil assault (also called “simple” assault) are not that different. They both involve the creation of an apprehension of imminent fear. The difference lies in the way that they are processed, legally speaking.

Criminal assault charges are prosecuted by the state. This means that they are filed through a criminal court rather than a civil court. The punishments for criminal assault are administered according to state and local statues, which usually make assault a misdemeanor. This will typically result in a criminal fine and/or jail time for a guilty defendant. 

In comparison, civil assault charges are filed by the victim, not the state. The purpose of a civil assault lawsuit is to reimburse the victim for the economic losses they have experienced due to the assault. This usually results in a monetary damages award paid by the defendant to the victim. 

The damages award can cover expenses like hospital bills, counseling costs, etc. In some cases, both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit can be filed for the same assault incident. Defenses may be different also for criminal and civil cases.

Is the Standard of Proof the Same for Criminal Assault vs. Civil Assault?

No. The standard of proof is higher in a criminal assault case as compared to a civil assault claim. In a criminal case, the evidence needs to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” before he or shee can be sentenced. This means that the jury needs practically certain that the defendant committed the assault. 

In comparison, the standard of proof in a civil assault claim is called “preponderance of the evidence”. Simply put, there needs to be roughly more than a 50% chance that the defendant committed the assault. In other words, it’s much harder to find a person criminally liable for assault in comparison to civil assault.

Lastly, for the defendant, criminal assault cases are generally handled by a criminal defense attorney. The defendant has a right to a defense attorney in a criminal case. In a civil claim, the defendant may be represented by a private lawyer, typically a personal injury lawyer. 

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Been Sued for Criminal Assault?

Although a criminal defendant has the right to a state-appointed lawyer, it’s often recommended that they hire their own defense lawyer, as this can prevent a number of different types of conflicts of interests. If you’re facing criminal charges, you may wish to hire a criminal defense lawyer in your area for assistance with your case.  Your attorney will be able to provide you with individualized, specific legal advice for your particular situation.