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Elements Required to Prove Assault

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What Is Assault?

An assault is a crime defined by criminal statutes as either: an attempted battery, or “an act intended to create a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm that is either harmful or offensive.” Thus, a defendant can be guilty of assault even if they did not physically harm the victim. The crime of assault usually results in misdemeanor charges. Misdemeanors are punishable by fines and time in jail (not prison) for up to one year.

Some of the more serious assault charges are considered to be felonies in some jurisdictions. Examples of felony assault charges include aggravated assault and assault on a police officer. Also, some state laws may include even more types of assault charges. However, the common characteristic in all assault charges is that the defendant creates a fear in the victim that they will suffer physical harm as a result of their action. 

What Elements Are Required to Prove Criminal Assault?

In order to prove criminal assault, a prosecutor must prove beyond all the required elements beyond a reasonable doubt. It can be a defense to the charge of assault that one or more of the elements has not been satisfied. The elements for the crime of assault are:

  • “An act intended to create”: The defendant must act with the intent to create the state of fear or danger in the victim. Accidental acts do not result in an act of assault.
  • “a reasonable apprehension”: This means that the victim had a reasonable belief that they would be harmed by the defendant. The victim must perceive (apprehend) the defendant’s acts.
  • “of imminent harm”: The victim must experience fear in response to a threat that is imminent, or immediately about to occur. Future threats, such as, “I will beat you up next week” do not result in assault charges. Also, the harm must present some sort of perceived physical danger to the victim, and so words by themselves generally do not constitute assault.
  • “that is either harmful or offensive”: The defendant’s conduct must present either a physical threat or offensive behavior to the defendant. Thus, pretending to kick the victim may be an assault, as would be attempting to spit on the victim (offensive behavior).

Thus, all of the above elements must be present in order for a defendant to be found guilty of assault. Of these elements, probably the ones that probably receive the most attention in a court of law are the element of “intent” and the element of “harmful or offensive”. 

In other words it can sometimes be difficult to prove whether the defendant had actually intended to commit an assault. Likewise, judges and juries often spend a lot of time determining whether the defendant’ acts are considered to be harmful or offensive.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Assault Charges?

If you are facing criminal assault charges, you should speak with a criminal lawyer immediately for advice. Your attorney will be able to explain to you in greater detail what the elements of assault mean and which elements will be focused on in court. Or, if you have been the victim of an assault, a criminal lawyer can help you obtain relief in a court of law.  

Photo of page author Adam Vukovic

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-10-2017 08:18 PM PDT

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