What is assault?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 27, 2021

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Under the U.S. common law system, the crime of assault is committed when a person intentionally puts another in fear of receiving serious bodily injury or offensive contact. When the victim is actually injured or contacted in an offensive manner, the offender is guilty of battery. Today, while some states continue to separate the two crimes of assault and battery, many have combined both under one single assault statute.

What are the subcategories of assault?

New Jersey law, like that of many other states, subdivides the crime of assault into two different categories: simple and aggravated assaults. A person is guilty of simple assault if he attempts to cause or knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another. S/he is also guilty of simple assault if s/he puts that person in fear of receiving serious bodily injury.

People can be guilty of aggravated assault if they attempt to cause – or knowingly or recklessly cause – serious bodily injury to another under circumstances demonstrating extreme indifference to the value of human life. Furthermore, a simple assault is upgraded to an aggravated assault if committed against a member of a protected class of individuals, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers and judges acting in the line of duty or scope of employment. In New Jersey, sexual assault is categorized as aggravated assault.

Aggravated assaults are considered to be a felony offense and may include an assault committed with a deadly weapon or with the intent to commit a serious crime, such as rape. An assault with a deadly weapon requires that the offender has used a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime. In the absence of aggravating factors,  the crime is regarded as simple assault or a misdemeanor.

An object can be a deadly weapon if it can cause death or great bodily harm. A gun and a large knife are examples of deadly weapons as they are designed to cause injury. Other objects, such as rocks, or bricks can become deadly assault weapons if the object is used in a manner likely to threaten serious bodily harm or death.

Aggravated assault charges vary. If convicted of aggravated assault, people can get a maximum penalty for assault of 14 years of prison.

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What is the definition of bodily injury?

Under many state laws, bodily injury is defined as impairment, physical injury or substantial pain. For example, one punch from an offender to a victim could cause the bodily injury necessary to charge simple assault. Multiple hard punches from that offender could cause the serious physical injury necessary to charge aggravated assault. “Serious bodily injury” is defined as that which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or the protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.

An individual who commits an assault needs only a general intent. So, if an individual acts in a way that’s supposed to be dangerous to other people, it can be enough to support assault charges, even if they didn’t mean any harm with intent to an individual. Moreover, an assault with intent to scare or threaten people can be enough to establish assault charges.

Under many state laws, aggravated assault is most often graded as a felony while simple assault is graded as a misdemeanor. For questions about assault or a local statute on assault, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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