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assault

assault

[uh-sawlt]
assault, in law, an attempt or threat, going beyond mere words, to use violence, with the intent and the apparent ability to do harm to another. If violent contact actually occurs, the offense of battery has been committed; modern criminal statutes often combine assault and battery. An assault may be both a crime and a tort, for which the party assaulted may sue for damages; the victim's freedom, as to move or remain at peace, must have been impinged on. Modern criminal statutes recognize certain degrees of assault (e.g., with intent to kill, to do great bodily harm, to rape) as aggravated assaults and felonies, though simple assault remains, as at common law, a misdemeanor. Either malevolence or recklessness (as in driving a car in reckless disregard of human life) may constitute the intent necessary to assault in most jurisdictions.

See W. L. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts (3d ed. 1964).

Military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant charge and has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire. Light and portable, yet able to deliver a high volume of fire with reasonable accuracy at modern combat ranges of 1,000–1,600 ft (300–500 m), assault rifles have become the standard infantry weapon of modern armies. Their ease of handling makes them ideal for mobile assault troops crowded into personnel carriers or helicopters, as well as for guerrilla fighters engaged in jungle or urban warfare. Widely used assault rifles are the U.S. M16, the Soviet Kalashnikov (the AK-47 and modernized versions), the Belgian FAL and FNC, and the German G3.

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Related but distinct crimes. Battery is the unlawful application of physical force to another; assault is an attempt to commit battery or an act that may reasonably cause fear of imminent battery. With manslaughter and murder (see homicide), these concepts are articulated to protect against rude and undesired physical contact or the threat of it. Battery requires no minimum degree of force, nor does it need to be applied directly; administering poison and transmitting a disease may both be battery. Accidents and ordinary negligence are not, nor is reasonable force used in the performance of duty (e.g., by a police officer). Seealso rape.

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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.

American jurisprudence

American common law has defined assault as an attempt to commit a battery.

Assault is typically treated as a misdemeanor and not as a felony (unless it involves a law enforcement officer). The more serious crime of aggravated assault is treated as a felony.

Four elements were required at common law:

  1. The apparent, present ability to carry out;
  2. An unlawful attempt;
  3. To commit a violent injury;
  4. Upon another.

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:

  1. an attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another; or,
  2. negligently causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.

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:

  • A defendant could argue that since he was drunk, he could not form the specific intent to commit assault. This defense would most likely fail since only involuntary intoxication is accepted as a defense in most American jurisdictions.
  • A defendant could also argue that he was engaged in mutually consensual behavior.

Aggravated assault

Aggravated assault is, in some jurisdictions, a stronger form of assault, usually using a deadly weapon. A person has committed an aggravated assault when that person:

  • attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another person
  • causes such injury purposely, knowingly, or recklessly in circumstances where the person has exhibited indifference to human life
  • attempts or causes bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon.

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.

General defenses to assaults

Although the range and precise application of defenses varies between jurisdictions, the following represents a list of the defenses that may apply to all levels of assault:

Consent

Consent may be a complete or partial defense to assault. In some jurisdictions, most notably England, it is not a defense where the degree of injury is severe, as long as there is no legally recognised good reason for the assault.. This can have important consequences when dealing with issues such as consensual sadomasochistic sexual activity, the most notable case being the Operation Spanner case. Legally recognized good reasons for consent include; surgery, activities within the rules of a game (Burnes), bodily adornment (R v Wilson), or horseplay (Jones and others). However, any activity outside the rules of the game is not legally recognized as a defense of consent. In Scottish Law, consent is not a defense for assault.

Arrest and other official acts

Police officers and court officials have a general power to use force for the purpose of effecting an arrest or generally carrying out their official duties. Thus, a court officer taking possession of goods under a court order may use force if reasonably necessary.

Punishment

In some jurisdictions such as Singapore, judicial caning and other forms of corporal punishment are a part of the legal system. The officers who physically administer the punishment have immunity from prosecution for assault.

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.

Prevention of crime

This may or may not involve self defense in that, using a reasonable degree of force to prevent another from committing a crime could involve preventing an assault, but it could be preventing a crime not involving the use of personal violence.

Defense of property

Some states allow force to be used in defense of property, to prevent damage either in its own right, or under one or both of the preceding classes of defense in that a threat or attempt to damage property might be considered a crime (in English law, under s5 Criminal Damage Act 1971 it may be argued that the defendant has a lawful excuse to damaging property during the defense and a defense under s3 Criminal Law Act 1967) subject to the need to deter vigilantes and excessive self-help.

Assault in England and Wales

In England and Wales, an assault consists of a person intentionally or recklessly causing another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.

Causing a person to apprehend violence can be committed by way of action or words: R v. Ireland [1997] 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 [1998] 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.

Variations of assault in England and Wales

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 [1998] AC 147, per Lord Steyn at p. 160).

Racially/religiously aggravated assault

If an assault is prosecuted as being racially or religiously aggravated, then it is triable either way (in the Crown Court or magistrates court). The maximum penalty in this case is up to two years' imprisonment, or a fine of up to the statutory maximum.

Assault with intent to resist arrest

The offender may intend to resist either his own or someone else's arrest. This offense is also triable either way, and punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.

Assault upon a constable in the execution of his duty

This offense is triable only in the magistrates court, so the maximum sentence is twelve months' imprisonment. The "starting sentence," however, is a short custodial sentence, and it is considered a more serious offense than common assault.

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).

Assault in Ancient Greece

Assault in Ancient Greece was normally termed hubris. Contrary to modern usage, the term did not have the extended connotation of overweening pride, self-confidence or arrogance, often resulting in fatal retribution. In Ancient Greece, "hubris" referred to actions which, intentionally or not, shamed and humiliated the victim, and frequently the perpetrator as well. It was most evident in the public and private actions of the powerful and rich.

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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