There are a number of crimes that apply to situations where you are in an altercation with another person. Sometimes you do not even have to come into physical contact with the victim to be charged with a crime. For example, you can be charged with simple assault in two situations:
- Failed Battery Attempt: You attempted to cause serious physical harm to another individual.
- An example of this is attempting to strike someone, but ultimately not making contact with their body.
- Threatening Act: You caused an individual to be in fear or apprehension that an imminent battery would occur.
- An example of this is waving your fists at someone in a way they would believe that you intend to hurt them. You could also use words to deliver the threat.
After you are charged with assault, your case will be assigned to a judge and ultimately go to trial if the charges are not dropped or you do not enter into a plea deal. The prosecutor on your case must prove all the elements of the crime in order to get a conviction. While the elements can vary from state to state, simple assault generally has three elements:
- Intent: The defendant must have intended to threaten or scare an individual into believing they were going to be physically harmed. This is usually satisfied with some type of act, gesture, or words.
- The act, gesture, or words must convey and the victim must feel a sense of imminent threat. If the victim was unaware of the threat or the threat was something like, “In exactly one year, I’ll come back and finish you,” it will most likely not reach the requirement of imminent threat.
- Reasonable Apprehension: The victim must have perceived that a harm or threat made by the defendant could possibly happen. If the victim does not perceive the threat to be real or directed towards them, then the threat has not created reasonable apprehension and this element will not be fulfilled.
- Harm: The victim must actually be harmed in some kind of way. This could include hearing a threat of physical injury and becoming fearful that you would be physically harmed as a result.
If the prosecutor fails to even prove one of these elements, the verdict for the defendant should be not guilty. However if you get a guilty verdict you will be sentenced for the crime. Simple assault is considered a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions. The punishments can range from probation, fines or jail time. This will depend on your state’s laws and the severity of the crime.
As with any crime, you may have some defenses available to you to defeat the charge. Again, the availability of these defenses will depend on your state’s laws. Common defenses to simple assault include the following:
- Self-Defense of Defense of Others: The victim was trying to harm you or another person and you reacted out of self defense in order to protect yourself or another person;
- Defense of Property: You acted in order to protect your property. This defense is usually harder to assert than self defense and is not commonly available;
- Mistaken Identity: You were not the person who committed the crime;
- Accident: If the harm was caused because of an accident, then you can argue that you did not intend to commit the assault;
- Consent: If the victim consented to your actions, then you can argue that you cannot be found guilty for the crime; and
- Failure to Prove One of the Elements: There was no intent, reasonable apprehension, or imminent harm to the victim. Because all of the elements were not met, the charge must be dismissed.
Keep in mind that the defense of self-defense is not always applicable, every state has requirements of what is “valid” self-defense. For example, some states require that you attempted to flee or that you made certain steps to de-escalate the situation. But other states drop that requirement depending on the nature of the assault (for example if there was a dangerous/lethal weapon involved).
Be sure to check with your lawyer before you try to assert a claim of self-defense, in case your situation does not meet your state’s requirement of a complete or adequate self-defense claim.
Aggravated assault is a different crime that is more serious than simple assault. Some jurisdictions refer to this crime as felony assault because it is usually classified as a felony and can result in a prison sentence.
In order to be charged with aggravated assault, the defendant generally will have needed to use a deadly weapon (such as a gun or knife) during the assault or attempted to cause the victim serious bodily harm. Some states make aggravated and simple assault separate crimes, while others may roll them into one crime with different elements.
Assault is often linked with battery, which occurs when a person uses unlawful and unauthorized force against someone, which results in offensive touching or physical injury. Generally if a person is charged with battery they will also be charged with assault. However, keep in mind that a person can solely be charged for assault without also being charged for battery.
If you have been charged with simple assault, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney. Hiring an attorney will give you a better chance of getting a favorable outcome in court. An attorney can review your case and determine if there are any defenses available that could help you get the charges dropped. An attorney can also try to negotiate a plea deal on your behalf and help you avoid jail time.