Assault charges are common across the United States. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, 2011 saw 751,131 aggravated assaults occur in the United States. This does not include the large number of defendants charged with simple assault. No matter how it is classified, assault is a violent crime and is treated seriously by the American legal system. If you are charged with assault, seek legal counsel as soon as possible. When discussing the situation with your attorney, make sure you ask 5 important questions.
1. “What am I being charged with?” Legally, “assault” is a broad term which is used differently across the country. Generally, battery usually requires some type of harmful or offensive contact while, assault only requires an action that would put a reasonable person in fear of harmful or offensive contact. However, some statutes use the term assault interchangeably with battery and an assault charge may really be a battery charge.
The distinction can have a profound effect on the defendant’s legal strategy. That’s where the services of a legal team are invaluable. If the statutory elements required some level of contact, the defendant can argue that the contact was not so harmful or offensive that it met the statutory language; or he or she may claim that the contact was accidental. If the statute requires intentional actions that would make the victim fearful, the defendant may claim that his or her actions did not rise to a level which would cause that to occur. The precise language of the relevant assault statute will dictate the available defenses.
2. “Am I being charged with a felony or a misdemeanor?” Many jurisdictions divide assault into different categories. Depending upon the circumstances and the relevant statute, the crime may qualify as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Typically, simple assault without any serious injuries or the use of weapons will qualify as a misdemeanor. An attack in which the perpetrator threatens to use or actually does use any type of instrument, or where they cause serious bodily injury will qualify as a felony.