Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal Assault
A: Assault is the most commonly committed violent crime in the U.S. In many states, assaults are classified as either “simple” or “aggravated.” A simple assault is making another person apprehensive of a physical attack or negligently causing injury to another person with a weapon. The exact definition, however, depends upon the state in which the alleged crime takes place. Aggravated assault is assault that occurs in conjunction with an attempt to cause serious injury or commit another crime; often, a deadly weapon is involved. A defendant may be convicted of aggravated assault even if the victim was not physically hurt.
Q: How is “assault” different from “battery”?
A: Traditionally, if the victim has been actually touched by the person committing the crime, then a battery has occurred. If the victim has not been touched, but only threatened, then the crime is assault. In many states, the distinction between assault and battery has been abolished and either type of action may be charged as an assault.
Q: What are the defenses to an assault charge?
A: Possible defenses include self-defense, defending another person and lack of intent (it was an accident). Intoxication, practical joking and revenge are typically not viable defenses. Each case is different, so you should discuss your options with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Q: How does the defense of self-defense work?
A: Self-defense is often asserted by defendants charged with violent crimes like assault. Self-defense is an admission that the defendant did the physical act associated with the charge of assault but was justified because of the threatening or aggressive conduct of the person allegedly assaulted. In most cases, the core questions include:
- Which party was the aggressor (who started it)?
- Was the defendant reasonable in believing that it was necessary to use force to avoid the danger?
- If the belief was a reasonable one, was the force the defendant used reasonable?
Q: What could happen to me if I am convicted of assault?
A: A conviction for assault could stay on your record for the rest of your life. You may be ordered to serve time in prison or jail, pay a monetary fine or both. You may be placed on probation for a substantial period of time. Some form of counseling or anger management training could be required. You may also lose your right to own or possess a firearm.
Q: What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
A: A felony is considered more serious than a misdemeanor. Felonies are usually punishable by more than a year in prison. Misdemeanors are usually punishable by less than a year of incarceration, a fine or another penalty. Some crimes may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances (these are sometimes called “wobblers”). Note that the distinction does not depend on the sentence that is actually imposed, just the maximum sentence that is possible.
Q: Does sexual assault usually involve a weapon?
A: No. The majority of sexual assaults are committed without the use of a weapon. Even fewer sexual assaults by an acquaintance, rather than a stranger, are committed with the use of a weapon.
Q: How is rape different from sexual assault?
A: In many states, criminal statutes no longer use the term “rape.” The crime is now called sexual assault, sexual abuse or criminal sexual conduct. The crime normally thought of as rape — sexual intercourse or sexual penetration by force or against the victim’s will — is prohibited by these laws and may be charged as first degree (or aggravated) criminal sexual conduct or sexual abuse. The laws forbid acts not just by men against women, but also by people of the same gender as the victim and by women against men. One spouse may be charged with sexually assaulting the other. Offenses such as unwanted touching, fondling or other indecent acts also may be included in the definition of sexual assault.
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