Statistics show that the estimated aggravated assault rate in the United States in 2021 was 284.4 cases per 100,000 population.
The ten-year survey showed that hundreds of people get fined or incarcerated due to assault charges. However, the data didn’t include the hundreds more victims of these crimes.
So, when do assault charges become criminal felonies? What are the types and degrees of assault and the penalties involved?
This write-up explores assault charges and the different legal defenses against an assault conviction. Understanding the meaning of assault and the offenses that can be considered assault can help you better protect yourself and your family.
On the other hand, legal knowledge of assault charges can help you fight your case when you’re wrongly accused of this crime.
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Federal Assault Charges
Most assault charges are prosecuted at a state level. However, the crime becomes a federal offense when:
- The offender assaulted another person on federal territory or land
- The assault was committed against a federal officer or a family member of a federal officer or employee
- The offender attacked someone while stealing federal property
- Assault is a crime involving any physical attack to harm another person.
- Assault can become a federal offense if it happens on federal lands or if perpetrated against a federal officer or a family member of a federal officer.
- Typical fines for simple assault range from $500 to $2,500, while aggravated assault can result in 10, 15, or 20 years of prison plus fines of up to $20,000.
- A person doesn’t need physical contact to be liable for assault. However, an assault conviction requires a criminal act that places the defendant in reasonable fear of imminent harm.
Assault, Battery, Aggravated Assault, and Sentencing
Any crime that involves any physical attack or the intentional infliction of harm can be assault, battery, or aggravated assault. However, the difference between these three crimes is the seriousness or severity of the attack.
What Is the Definition of Assault?
A simple definition of assault is any intentional act that causes fear of immediate physical harm, even without necessarily causing physical injury.
What Does It Mean to Assault Someone?
Assault needs two components for a conviction. The first is a clear intention to harm (threats of violence), and the second is the victim’s genuine fear due to the threat of harm.
Charges can be filed even if no bodily harm is done as long as the offender intended to harm the victim and the victim was genuinely frightened.
What Is Battery?
Battery is similar to assault, although it is often regarded as a “completed assault.”
State laws have combined assault and battery to define a criminal act involving the intentional harming of a person. Today, statutes characterize assaults as crimes of actual physical violence.
The Four Types of Assault
Many state laws have different ways of interpreting assault. Still, in general, there are four types of assault.
Petty or simple assault is the lowest level of assault. People convicted of petty or simple assault can serve up to a year in jail. Examples of petty or simple assault are the following:
- Pushing someone away from you during an argument
- Giving someone a verbal threat of violence
- Raising a fist and acting in a manner that is threatening to another person (like you’re about to punch them)
The presence of an “extraordinary risk” makes third-degree felony assault more serious than simple or petty assault. In a third-degree assault, the offender recklessly causes harm to another person, with or without intention.
Second-degree assault is also classified as a Class 4 felony. This crime involves causing serious bodily injury to a victim through brute force or using a deadly weapon. The DA (district attorney) prosecutes second-degree assaults.
First-degree assault is the highest form of assault as it involves a deadly, dangerous weapon coupled with serious bodily injury.
A Class 3 felony, first-degree assault can result in a 10- to 32-year sentence if the accused is found guilty.
Forms of Assault Charges
When referring to the forms of assault charges, you have to look into the structure of an assault charge rather than its category or type.
Assault: Physical or Offensive Contact
One form of assault is the act of violence or intentional force against another. It’s also called offensive contact. Examples include striking a victim with an object and offensive touching (regardless of how subtle it is).
Assault: Attempts or Threats of Physical Contact or Harm
States vary when classifying attempts or threats of physical harm under attempted assault.
In some states, threatening actions must make someone feel impending violence, not actual physical contact.
Under this approach, an attempted assault is not a crime in some states because the assault itself is only an attempt. In some states, it’s not enough to categorize verbalized threats as assault.
However, if the attempt or threat materializes, the crime is battery.
In most cases, verbal threats are not considered a crime or assault. However, marching toward someone with verbal threats and visibly threatening a victim to cause fear can be considered assault.
A Victim’s Fear
For a victim to file an assault, there should be a genuine fear caused by threatening another person and a reasonable response normally expected from someone in that situation.
Aggravated Assault Laws and Penalties
Aggravated assault is a serious form of assault that involves harsher penalties determined by the courts.
This crime usually involves the use of a weapon, or the victim experiences more violence than typically expected from a punch or slap.
What Is Aggravated Assault?
An aggravated assault is the infliction of serious bodily harm to another individual using a deadly weapon, or the victim is part of a protected class.
A protected class is a demographic protected by anti-discriminatory laws. Examples include women, differently-abled people, police officers, prison personnel, and minorities.
Aggravated Assault Resulting in Serious or Great Bodily Harm or Injuries
Some states use levels of harm to determine the difference between simple and aggravated assault.
In the case of aggravated assault resulting in serious or great bodily harm, the victim must have experienced permanent, life-threatening, and substantial damage that can cause long-lasting pain.
Aggravated Assault Involving a Deadly Weapon
Using deadly weapons always aggravates a situation, especially if there’s an intention to harm. However, states may vary in prosecuting defendants based on how the weapon is used. Deadly weapons include any object designed to kill or injure another person.
Aggravated Assault Involving a Protected Victim
When someone threatens or inflicts harm to a person under a protected class, many states bump the charges to aggravated assault.
Differences Between Simple and Aggravated Assault
There are slight differences between simple and aggravated assault. Still, those differences can mean a short time in jail or lengthy incarceration in a state or federal prison.
Simple assault may result in one year of jail time with fines.
Aggravated assault can result in longer sentences in a state or federal prison. The length depends on the seriousness of the crime committed and the judge’s discretion.
Defining Simple vs. Aggravated Assault
Another way of differentiating simple and aggravated assault is the type of crime classification.
- A person convicted of simple assault usually gets a misdemeanor. In some states, the charge is called misdemeanor assault.
- A person convicted of aggravated assault usually is charged with a felony that is a more serious offense.
Levels of Harm
Simple assault involves threats or moderate bodily harm. In contrast, aggravated assault involves inflicting serious harm to an alleged victim with a risk of death.
Assault With a Deadly Weapon
Using deadly weapons in a threatening way indicates that the crime can escalate to an aggravated assault charge. Some states consider assault with a deadly weapon as a separate crime, unlike aggravated assault.
What Are Examples of Aggravated Assault?
Here are examples of actions that can result in getting an aggravated assault charge.
- Striking a person with a knife, bat, or any object
- Threatening to attack a person with a dangerous object
- Shooting a person with a gun
- Pointing a gun at a person while threatening to kill them
Note that in some states, this list may be longer. It’s best to talk to a criminal defense attorney to understand better the assault charge.
Examples of Simple and Aggravated Assault
Here are more examples of simple assault offenses:
- Pushing someone
- Threatening to harm a person physically
- Grabbing another person’s arm and inflicting pain
- Attempting to punch someone but misses
- Pulling someone’s hair
- Throwing objects at another person
How Does the Prosecutor Prove Aggravated Assault?
For the prosecution to succeed, all elements or factors of the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
These elements include evidence of the assault act and factors that classify it as “aggravated.” Without sufficient proof, charges may be dismissed or reduced to simple assault charges.
What Are the Penalties for Assault, Aggravated Assault, and Assault and Battery?
The following are penalties prescribed by law against assault, assault and battery, and aggravated assault. Note that states may differ in penalties and how they determine incarceration time.
Incarceration and Fines
Fines for simple assault may range from $500 to $2,500. Incarceration time may be up to one year in jail.
Felony assault, an assault with a dangerous weapon, may result in incarceration of up to five years.
On the other hand, aggravated assault is so severe that a conviction may mean imprisonment of up to 20 years and fines of up to $20,000.
A judge can decide to give first-time offenders a chance of probation. The offender may serve all of their sentences in probation or part. However, offenders with repeat felony convictions may be less likely to get probation.
Judges may issue restraining orders to protect victims from an assailant’s possible revenge. A person with a restraining order can’t go near a victim unless risking a violation that may lead to additional convictions.
Another penalty that a judge may order is restitution for the physical and emotional injuries caused by the assault. The judge can order the accused to pay the medical and counseling bills incurred by the victim.
The accused may also have to pay for property damage that resulted from the assault. Payments given to the victim are called restitution.
What Are the Penalties for Aggravated Assault? Is Aggravated Assault a Felony?
The majority of states regard aggravated assault as a felony. This type of crime is severe, and offenders may face lengthy incarcerations and pay fines.
Will Aggravated Assault Result in Jail or Prison Time?
Aggravated assault is a serious crime because it involves threatening a person with a deadly weapon. In some states, aggravated assault is a third-degree felony. The judge can sentence you to five years maximum prison time.
Even if this was a first-time offense, there is a high likelihood of going to jail or spending prison time after a successful conviction.
Mandatory or Enhanced Penalties in Aggravated Assault Cases
Mandatories are penalties already defined in the statute. In some states, aggravated assault cases have mandatory sentences to be imposed by the judge.
The judge can give a longer prison term than the mandatory minimum but not shorter.
For example, in Florida, the mandatory minimum punishment for an aggravated assault conviction is three years imprisonment.
Penalties for Simple Assault
U.S. courts view simple assault as a misdemeanor, and the penalties are according to fines and punishments prescribed by law. In most states, the offender must pay a maximum fine of $1,000 and serve a minimum of six months to one year of jail time.
Sentencing Factors Considered by Judges
In a simple assault case, the judge will assess the injuries sustained by the victim and the defendant’s intent and remorseful attitude.
Judges factor in the aggravating circumstances highlighted by the prosecution and the mitigating factors enumerated by the defense.
In the case of an assault charge, several factors likely affect the judge’s sentencing, such as:
- Is the offense habitual?
- Is there any involvement of drugs or alcohol?
- Was the defendant provoked, which led to the aggressive action?
- Does the defendant have any mental health or disabilities that should be considered?
Enhancing Sentences for Protected Victims
Assault on a protected class is an aggravating factor that can increase penalties and prison time.
In Connecticut, if convicted of an assault charge against a victim under the protected class, a mandatory five-year non-suspendable imprisonment is certain.
Penalties for a Battery Charge
The battery charge penalties may differ in each state. In Texas, for example, the fines for battery charges are the following:
- Class C misdemeanor: Maximum fine of $500
- Class B misdemeanor: Maximum fine of $2,000 with a maximum jail time of 180 days
- Class A misdemeanor: Maximum fine of $4,000 with a maximum jail time of 1 year
- Third-degree felony: Maximum fine of $10,000 with prison time of up to 10 years
- Second-degree felony: Maximum fine of $10,000 and prison time of between 2 and 20 years
- First-degree felony: Minimum of five years and a maximum of life imprisonment plus a fine
What Defenses Can Be Raised in an Aggravated Assault Case?
In most cases, the defenses against an assault charge are the following:
- Self-defense: If there is proof that your action was a response to a real threat, then that’s self-defense.
- Protecting others: It could prove crucial if your actions were to protect someone from an assailant.
- Mutual combat: If your assault resulted from a fight with the plaintiff, then it can be considered mutual combat and may bring the case down to simple assault.
Planning defenses against assault charges is best done with the help of law firms specializing in criminal law.
To defend oneself against such charges, one should acquire the services of a criminal defense lawyer or an assault lawyer to guide them through the proceedings.
A professional attorney-client relationship can help them navigate through this predicament.
Defenses and Ways of Staying Out of Assault Convictions
Staying on the side of cool-headedness can help the accused steer away from tense situations. Also, having no criminal record, no addiction, and an expert defense attorney can help them stay out of an assault conviction.
About the Sentencing Data for Assault
The United States Sentencing Commission tracks and reports sentencing practices in federal courts in the country. The USSC collects these data, commonly referred to as sentencing data.
The commission is an independent, bipartisan agency under the federal judiciary. The USSC reports to Congress but doesn’t endorse or oppose any political opinion on criminal sentencing.
The goal of the USSC is to assist in maintaining consistency of sentencing across federal courts.
Assault Sentences by State
Data shows fewer assaults are charged in federal than state courts. Results indicate that few people are serving time in federal prisons for assault. For example, in 2019, U.S. federal courts in 47 states sentenced 785 individuals to prison for assault.
Type of Sentences Given for Assault
Aggravated assault will typically get a prison term. However, there are different types of prison sentences that an assault conviction brings.
- Determinate sentences: This is a prison term with a specific time frame. If a judge sentences a defendant to a flat five years imprisonment, that’s determinate.
- Indeterminate sentences: This is a prison term where there’s a minimum and maximum terms.
- Life imprisonment: In worse cases, the defendant can get a life sentence for serious offenses, especially if the assault case is recurring.
Plea vs. Trial
A plea bargain is a common way to avoid trial and take advantage of the benefits of getting terms that don’t include long jail or prison terms.
Research has shown that defendants found guilty at trial received an average sentence of more than twice as long as those who pleaded guilty or no contest.
A sentence guideline provides a prescribed punishment for different cases. Though judges have discretion, it’s rare to find judges giving sentences exceeding the guideline.
A Prior Criminal Record
A prior criminal record can significantly influence the severity of the sentence given by a judge.
Records showed that not many criminal defendants had a clean record when sentenced for assault. According to the USSC, 86% of all defendants convicted had a criminal record.
The three-strike rule in California ensures that repeat offenders are imprisoned long after the third conviction.
Education Level of Assault Defendants
Though inconclusive, statistics show that higher-education defendants are less likely to get entangled with assault charges, and age could be a factor.
Younger people are more likely to be sentenced for assault than older population groups. The defendants may have been enrolled in college when they were charged with assault.
Sentences for Assault by Race
Statistics show that people getting federal prison sentences don’t center on minority classes.
For example, research shows that the longest average sentence was for an unknown and uncategorized non-Hispanic race. However, note that research on prison sentences by race is lacking.
Prison Sentences Given by Race
Statistics show that more than 83% of prison sentences were given to African-American defendants, followed closely by white defendants identified as Hispanic.
Total Sentences by Age and Gender
According to USSC data, young men are more likely to be charged with assault than women and older population groups. According to the data, men aged 21 to 40 comprised a large percentage of the 2019 sentencing.
Is There a Way to Stay Out of Jail for an Assault Conviction?
You can stay out of prison or jail for any conviction by avoiding tight, confrontational situations due to reckless behavior. Avoid conflict and always keep a cool head at all times.
Other ways to stay out of jail include:
- Refrain from drug or alcohol dependency.
- Have a stable job.
- Build a stable family or strengthen healthy relationships.
- Get involved in positive activities like service to the community.
More Questions About Assault and Battery Penalties and Sentencing? Ask an Attorney
When you need more information about assault charges, contacting an attorney from a law firm specializing in criminal defense is best. Some firms offer free consultation services to their clients.
LookUpInmate.org provides access to inmate records from over 7,000 U.S. correctional facilities, including federal and state prisons, local jails, military prisons, and immigrant detention facilities.
1. How many years can I get for a simple assault?
Simple assaults are mostly considered a misdemeanor, and you can serve six months to a maximum of one year in jail.
2. How much time do I get for aggravated assault?
Aggravated assault is a felony, and states may dole out sentences from 5 years to 30 years in prison.
3. Will I go to jail for an assault charge in the U.S.?
Whether you go to jail or not depends on the crime’s severity and your criminal record. Some states give probation sentences to first-time offenders.
4. Will I go to jail for a simple assault in the U.S.?
Yes. A misdemeanor or simple assault has a maximum jail sentence of up to one year.
5. Is assault a felony in the U.S.?
When the assault involves the offender having a deadly weapon with a clear intent to cause serious bodily injury, the case becomes a felony. In legal terms, it is a “felonious assault.”
6. What’s the worst punishment for assault?
In California’s three-strike system, three felonies will automatically result in a 25-year sentence. It’s one of the worst punishments for an assault case.
7. How long is jail time for assault in the U.S.?
Jail or prison time for an assault conviction in the U.S. depends on the assault charge. Misdemeanor assault may involve jail time of up to one year.
1. Reported aggravated assault rate in the United States from 1990 to 2021
2. Assault, Battery, and Aggravated Assault