Assault is a crime of violence against another person. In some jurisdictions, including Australia and New Zealand, assault refers to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, while in other jurisdictions, such as the United States, assault may refer only to the threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force. Simple assaults that do not involve any aggravation such as use of a deadly weapon are distinguished from aggravated assaults in some jurisdictions. Assault is often defined to include not only violence, but any physical contact with another person without their consent. In common law jurisdictions, including England and Wales and the United States, battery is the crime that represents the unlawful physical contact, though this distinction does not exist in all jurisdictions. Exceptions exist to cover unsolicited physical contact which amount to normal social behavior known as de minimis harm.
In most jurisdictions, the intention to cause grievous bodily harm (or its equivalent) may amount to the mental requirement to prefer a charge of murder in circumstances where the harm inflicted upon the victim proves fatal.
Four elements were required at common law:
Simple assault can be distinguished without the intent of injury upon another person. Simple assault can consist simply of the violation of one's personal space or touching in a way the victim deemed inappropriate. (i.e. one's personal space consists of arm's reach.)
As the criminal law evolved, element one was weakened in most jurisdictions so that a reasonable fear of bodily injury would suffice. These four elements were eventually codified in most states.
Modern American statutes define assault as:
Some states also define assault as an attempt to menace (or actual menacing) by placing another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
States vary whether it is possible to commit an "attempted assault" since it can be considered a double inchoate offense.
In some states, consent is a complete defense to assault. In other jurisdictions, mutual consent is an incomplete defense, with the result that the misdemeanor is treated as a petty misdemeanor.
Furthermore, the crime of assault generally requires that both the perpetrator and the victim of an assault are human. Thus, there is no assault if an ox gores a man. However, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 treats the fetus as a separate person for the purposes of assault and other violent crimes, under certain limited circumstances. See H.R. 1997 / P.L. 108-212
Some possible examples of defenses, mitigating circumstances, or failures of proof are:
Aggravated assault is usually differentiated from simple assault by the offender's intent (i.e., to murder, to rape etc.), the extent of the injury to the victim, or the use of a deadly weapon, although legal definitions vary between jurisdictions. Sentences for aggravated assault are generally more severe, reflecting the greater degree of harm or malice intended by the perpetrator. In many cases, the perpetrator is sentenced to life in prison, or consecutive life terms depending on how many counts of assault he or she is convicted of. There have been a few rare cases where a perpetrator whom assaults someone with a deadly weapon receives the death penalty depending on how much bodily harm has been inflicted onto the victim. The average sentence for aggravated assault in the United States ranges between 30 and 90 years in prison per count/charge.
Some states also permit the use of less severe corporal punishment for children in school and at home by their parents. In English law, s58 Children Act 2004, limits the availability of the lawful correction defense to common assault under s39 Criminal Justice Act 1988.
Causing a person to apprehend violence can be committed by way of action or words: R v. Ireland  AC 147. Of course, words can also mean that otherwise threatening actions are rendered not capable of being an assault, as in the celebrated case of Tuberville v. Savage (1669 1 Mod 3, T). In that case, the Defendant told the Complainant (while putting his hand on his sword) that he would not stab him, because the circuit judge was visiting town for the local assizes. On that basis, the Complainant was deemed to have known that he was not about to be injured, and no assault was held to have been committed.
The "immediacy" required has been the subject of some debate. The leading case, again, is R v. Ireland  AC 147. The House of Lords held that the making of silent telephone calls could amount to an assault, if it caused the victim to believe that physical violence might be used against him in the immediate future. One example of "immediacy" adopted by the House in that case was that a man who said, "I will be at your door in a minute or two," might (in the circumstances where those words amounted to a threat) be guilty of an assault.
Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that common assault, like battery, is triable only in the magistrates court in England and Wales (unless it is linked to a more serious offense which is triable in the Crown Court). Additionally, if a Defendant has been charged on an indictment with assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH), or racially/religiously aggravated assault, then a jury in the Crown Court may acquit the Defendant of the more serious offense, but still convict of common assault if it finds common assault has been committed.
Because common assault is a summary-only offense, its maximum penalty is six months' imprisonment, or a "level 5 fine" (currently up to £5,000). The "starting sentence" for a first time offender pleading guilty is normally a community penalty.
English law makes distinctions based on the degree of injury, between:
Furthermore, English law also provides for the offense of grievous bodily harm (GBH). GBH may be committed by way of an assault, though an assault is not a necessary ingredient of either inflicting grievous bodily harm pursuant to s20 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 or causing grievous bodily harm with intent pursuant to s 18 of the same Act (R v. Ireland  AC 147, per Lord Steyn at p. 160).
The constable (normally a police officer) must be acting "in the execution of his duty" for this offense to be made out. If he exceeds the remit of his duty (e.g. acts unlawfully in assaulting the Defendant), the offense will not be made out.
The Defendant does not actually have to be aware that the person he is assaulting is a constable (Forbes (1865) 10 Cox CC 362).
Violations of the law against hubris included what would today be termed assault and battery; sexual crimes ranging from forcible rape of women or children to consensual but improper activities, in particular anal sex with a man or a boy; or the theft of public or sacred property. Two well-known cases are found in the speeches of Demosthenes, a prominent statesman and orator in ancient Greece. These two examples occurred when first, Meidias punched Demosthenes in the face in the theater (Against Meidias), and second when (in Against Konon) a defendant allegedly assaulted a man and crowed over the victim.
Hubris, though not specifically defined, was a legal term and was considered a crime in classical Athens. It was also considered the greatest sin of the ancient Greek world. That was so because it not only was proof of excessive pride, but also resulted in violent acts by or to those involved. The category of acts constituting hubris for the ancient Greeks apparently broadened from the original specific reference to mutilation of a corpse, or a humiliation of a defeated foe, or irreverent, "outrageous treatment", in general.
The meaning was eventually further generalized in its modern English usage to apply to any outrageous act or exhibition of pride or disregard for basic moral laws. Such an act may be referred to as an "act of hubris", or the person committing the act may be said to be hubristic. Ate, Greek for 'ruin, folly, delusion', is the action performed by the hero, usually because of his/her hubris, or great pride, that leads to his/her death or downfall.
Crucial to this definition are the ancient Greek concepts of honor (timē) and shame. The concept of timē included not only the exaltation of the one receiving honor, but also the shaming of the one overcome by the act of hubris. This concept of honor is akin to a zero-sum game. Rush Rehm simplifies this definition to the contemporary concept of "insolence, contempt, and excessive violence".
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