Misdemeanor assault, or “simple assault,” is basically an attempt to commit a battery. It can also be defined as any act that is made with the intent to create a reasonable fear of injury in the victim. An example of misdemeanor assault is where a person swings their fist at a person intending to create a fear of injury in the victim. 

Actual physical contact is not necessary in order to find a person guilty of misdemeanor assault. Also, attempted contact that is considered to be offensive can result in assault charges, even if the act is not violent or physically harmful in nature.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Misdemeanor Assault?

Misdemeanor assault may be treated differently depending to the laws of individual states, as well as the factual circumstances surrounding the assault. In general, misdemeanor assault charges can result in the following legal penalties:

  • Monetary fines (anywhere from hundreds of dollars to $1,000) AND/OR
  • Jail sentence in a local county jail (not a federal prison facility)
  • Possible exposure to a civil lawsuit- the defendant would then be liable for the victim’s injuries or losses. Punitive damages may be awarded in some cases

In addition, a judge may also prescribe rehabilitative courses in some cases. For example, the defendant may be required to attend mandatory anger management courses. Also, punishments for misdemeanor assault may increase with repeat offenses. 

Misdemeanor assault convictions may often be expunged from one’s record if they are eligible. 

Are There Any Defenses to Misdemeanor Assault?

A person who is charged with misdemeanor assault may have a number of defenses that apply to their situation. Some defenses to misdemeanor or simple assault include:

  • Self-defense: The defendant must reasonably believe that their own safety was first threatened. They must respond only with an appropriate amount of force, and they cannot initiate the use of physical force.
  • Lack of intent: The physical act was not accompanied by an intent to create fear in the victim (i.e., the act was an accident).
  • Defense of others: The defendant can use force to defend others; however they must have a reasonable belief that the person being attack would be entitled to self-defense.
  • Defense of Property: Some states allow a reasonable amount of force in defending against intruders on personal property.  However, deadly force is generally not allowed, unless the intruder has threatened with deadly force.
  • Consent:  If the parties consent to harmful or offensive contact, this will negate any assault charges. For example, in physically harmful activity is often consented to in martial arts matches or other sports competitions. The competitors must remain within the rules of the competition.
  • Arrest/Prevention of crime: Some jurisdictions allow persons to use a reasonable amount of force in making a citizen’s arrest or to prevent the commission of a crime.

When Does Misdemeanor Assault become Felony Assault?

Felony assault, or aggravated assault, is a more serious crime than misdemeanor assault. Misdemeanor assault may be “elevated’ or raised to aggravated assault if:

  • The assault involves a deadly weapon or firearm
  • The assault is on a woman, child, or police officer (“assaulting a police officer”)
  • The assault is sexual in nature (“sexual assault”)
  • The assault resulted in serious injury or death of the victim

Aggravated assault results in more serious penalties than simple assault, such as increased fines and possible time in a federal prison for a period of more than one year.

The laws of each state may vary in terms of how they treat misdemeanor and felony assaults. In some states, some misdemeanor assault charges can result in penalties that are more similar to felony assault penalties. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Misdemeanor Assault?

Misdemeanor assault can result in permanent charges on one’s criminal record. As in any criminal case, persons charged with misdemeanor assault have a legal right to an attorney. An experienced criminal lawyer can help in determining whether a defense is available or whether the charges may be expunged later.