This article is written by Deena Nawab, an Advocate by profession. The author has explained about simple assault under the US law and how the Judiciary of the US has given more scope to the definition of simple assault.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
What would you do if someone threatens you or you have a fear of being hit physically by an acquaintance or stranger in a heated argument? If not, for instance, a person who dislikes your joke comes forward to physically attack you but does no harm. In this state to have fear of being threatened to be hit physically or attacked is an assault, this action accounts for a felony or misdemeanour.
Many have an assumption that assault is just about a grievous hurt or an attack. But to be precise, assault is referred to as an action or intention to cause fear or threat and may not always culminate in physical harm. For instance, if someone threatens you with a knife or a cricket bat but there is no physical contact with the object, then this is an attempt to cause an assault. The tort law of the US gives scope for this type of non-physical threat to be subjected as an assault. Often assault and battery go hand-in-hand, as the battery is the physical misconduct post-assault. If you assume that a man walking in your opposite direction, seems dangerous but does not harm you then there’s no assault committed by him. Assault is of varying degrees under US law, and depending on this the punishment is imposed on the accused.
Therefore assault is not primarily only the non-physical conduct but also the bodily harm or wound caused by violent behaviour. This does not just attract the tort law but the criminal law as well and the punishment imposed varies from state to state. This article seeks to elucidate about simple assault under the US law with the types of assaults and landmark cases passed to broaden the perspective on the use of the term simple assault.
What is considered an assault under US Law
Assault is the apprehension of fear given to the other person to sustain any physical injury irrespective of how serious it is. To clear any confusion, assault and battery are however considered to be separate offences under the US law but a person can be charged with assault and battery if both these actions cause physical injury or damage. Battery is the aftermath of assault, it is the actual physical injury caused by unlawful or forceful conduct against the victim by the accused. The accused can be either punished with criminal or civil offense on the charge of assault. One main factor under US law to consider whether an assault has been committed is whether a weapon was used by the accused. Under the law, an assault is determined on the condition whether a weapon is used. And depending on the weapon used, the degree of assault is decided whether it be simple or aggravated assault.
Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S.C) § 113 sets out the provision of assault. This provision states that assault is of two types. First is in respect of felony, an offense punishable with 10 years of imprisonment along with a fine is imposed. And the other for simple offences, with punishment of not more than 6 months or 1 year is imposed along with a fine.
There has been a punishment set under US law because this in one way avoids people to be uncivilized and violative by showing aggressive behaviour towards each other.
Types of Assault
Simple assault and aggravated assault are measured on the degree of harm caused to the victim. Under the US law, the types of assaults which are punishable along with the simple and aggravated assault are listed below- Assault in the US are not just limited to simple or aggravated but are extended to the below-mentioned categories of assaults as well-
- Simple Assault- Simple assault is the least offensive one under the US law, as there are less instances of harm being caused to the person.
- Aggravated Assault- This type of assault is much more offensive than a simple assault as the accused uses a weapon that causes serious physical injury to the victim. You may notice that these assaults are pretty common in gangs engaged with the supply of guns, knives or drugs where there are high chances of any arguments getting heated and physical. Or else a burglar threatening the victim with the knife and causing physical injury, on not doing as what the accused asked for. The accused commits these assaults with the intention of causing bodily injury to the victim, intention of causing either temporary or permanent impairment to the victim making him incapable to perform day-day activities. Irrespective of whether the injury caused is minor on the victim, the accused is still charged with aggravated assault since there is an existence of a deadly weapon with him whether it be gun, knife or car.
- Assault by a deadly weapon– This is one type of aggravated assault; here the definition for deadly weapon also extends to the use of bottles, bats, rocks or cars to harm the victim. In some states of the US, use of deadly weapons is considered to be an aggravated assault whereas if not, it’s also considered to be a separate crime from aggravated assault.
- Assault by vehicle- In this type of assault, the accused seems to be reckless and irresponsible on driving his vehicle with high probabilities of causing an accident towards a car and its passengers inside or causing damage to public or private property. The same is the case for drink and drive.
- Sexual assault- As understood from the word, sexual assault is the forceful intercourse without consent done on the victim by the accused. In some states of US, sexual assault has the same punishment as rape. Whereas in other few, these states distinguish sexual assault to be as the action of physical contact on somebody’s body ( breasts, buttocks, genital area,) without their consent.
- Felony assault- A heinous act which causes serious physical disformation whether it be by aggravated sexual assault, aggravated assault by use of deadly weapon or severe disformation by the reason of vehicle assault.
Simple assault could be described as an offense involving the assault of causing fear by a threat to the victim and this excludes any physical misconduct. This is a clear indication that the accused wants to threaten the victim for any future conduct that seems to displease him. Simple assault may not be considered a grave problem but this is the stepping stone for any misconduct to give way for aggravated assault.
The courts in the US have convicted men for simple assault just on the ground that touching is a sexual offense under Section 113(a)(5), such as in the cases of United States v. Bayes(2000), United States v. Smith(1987) and States v. Guilbert (1983).
Punishment for simple assault
As described above regarding the types of assaults, there’s also a varying degree of punishment that the person will be subject to based on the assault committed by him. For committing the offense of simple assault, the punishment is of a lower degree. Depending on the severity of the assault, the charge of misdemeanor or felony can be imposed.
For simple assault, the accused receives misdemeanor punishment with imprisonment less than or up to a year with or without a fine. Whereas aggravated assault is subject to felony under the US law, and the accused in this respect is imposed with not less than a year of imprisonment but up to 10 years along with a fine.
However, not every accused held liable for simple assault will be sentenced to jail for a year, but this greatly depends on whether or not a weapon was used and whether the accused really had intention to harm the victim.
Landmark cases on Simple Assault
United States v. Delis (2009)
In this case, a passenger named Delis was traveling in American Airlines. During this journey, he got engaged in an argument with a flight attendant named Louisa Willaims Beauvil, she alleged that Delis had pushed her hand away from his face. And upon landing, he was charged under 49 U.S.C § 46506 on the grounds of assaulting and behaving in an ill-manner with the cabin crew. Not only was he charged under this Code but the government also charged him with simple assault under 18 U.S.C §113 (a)(5).
Magistrate Judge, Azrack took charge of this case, and on 7th March 2007 a Bench trial was held with the presence of several witnesses along with Delis and William Beauvil. The main argument arose from the flight attendant William Beauvil, saying that they ran out of chicken meal for the passengers, on which the discussion turned into a heated argument with Delis. She submitted that the blow given by Delis ended on her left breast. Delis contended that he only moved her finger away which she pointed at him, thereafter he remained calm throughout the journey. Delis counsel had submitted before the Judge that his sole intention was to move her finger away from his face and in fact not inflict harm to her which is the requirement for an assault. The judge had found Delis guilty of simple assault, stating that just an offensive conduct fulfills the requirements for simple assault and not the intention to inflict injury. Further stating that the proof submitted by the government gave way for simple assault, making Delis serve a sentence of time along with a fine of $ 10 under.
Delis however was not happy with this conviction and appealed to the United States District Court for Eastern District of New York. Submitting that for simple assault an intent to injure must be present. The Court put down the contentions made by Delis and followed the conviction passed by the Magistrate Judge.
State v. Edwards (1958)
In this case, the defendant- Edwards was held accountable for atrocious assault and battery. The victim named Mary Harbochuk on September 1st, 1957 was attacked by the defendant. The victim stated that she was attacked for refusing to kiss the defendant in public, whereas the defendant stated that she refused to pay him $ 40 that she owed him. The police had found her in an awful bleeding situation for the harm caused by the defendant. The police found the victim bleeding from the defendant’s degree of assault. Edwards made an appeal from the Bergen County Court to the Supreme Court of New Jersey contending that he only struck her with his fist on the face then pushed her towards the branches, after which he took money and left from there. Thereby, he was not accountable for atrocious assault and battery but instead only for simple assault. The Court relied on the cases State v Riley (1958) and State v McGrath (1954) to determine whether simple or aggravated assault is on the seriousness and brutality of the assault. The Court reversed the previous judgment on the ground that most of the harm sustained was artificial and not by the misconduct of the defendant as he did not cause any aggravated assault or felony towards her.
U.S v. McCulligan (2001)
In this case, the appellant, McCulligan, was sentenced by the District Court for simple assault and all other cases under 18 U.S.C §111(a) which sets out 1 year imprisonment for simple assault and three years of imprisonment for other cases. The appellant was held accountable for assaulting the deputies with his car by trying to harm and damage their property, even though no harm was inflicted on the deputies. The appeal was with regards to the conviction made for simple assault and other cases as well, praying that the appellant must be convicted for just one crime and not both. The Circuit Judge had agreed to reduce the sentence to one year for one crime and not 3 years imprisonment on the ground that the appellant could be sentenced only for one crime and not be accountable for another under the same guidelines.
U.S v. Yates (2002)
In this case, Yates was held responsible for forcibly assaulting federal officers that’s in violation of 18 U.S.C §111. Yate was in a truck while the arrest was to be made by the officers, and had accelerated towards the officers making them swerve to save themselves on being struck by Yate’s truck. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment under Section111 (a) along with 18 months which was for violation of his supervised release condition. Yate appealed on the ground that he must only be served with one year imprisonment since no physical injury or damage was sustained by the officers. The Circuit Court did not remand the sentence as the truck here was used as a deadly weapon to harm the officers and this does not account for simple assault.
In conclusion, the US recognizes majorly two types of assault for deciding the punishment of the accused, first is simple assault, whereas the other is aggravated assault. The punishment for assault under the US court is based on the degree of harm caused to the victim by the accused. Simple assault is seen as a misdemeanor offense whereas aggravated assault is seen to be a felony. The US courts have played a significant role in reversing lower courts convictions by broadening the scope of simple assault and how it must be applied under the law. That is, simple assault cannot be applied for the artificial injury sustained after how the accused tried to harm the victim. Simple assault is not led by an intention in most cases but offensive misconduct is enough to prove the accused guilty. Non-consensual sexual touch is one type of simple assault and it is still a simple assault if a deadly weapon is used for misconduct but the opposite person does not sustain any injury with the weapon. The US law thus gives simple assault a broader perspective thereby giving offenders only a limited time period of punishment for their misconduct and not being entitled for an unfair punishment beyond that.
Frequently asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the definition of assault?
Assault is defined as a simple crime under US law. There are two types of assault, one is simple assault whereas the other is aggravated assault. The type of assault committed by the accused is decided on the degree of harm caused and the weapon used.
Is simple assault different from aggravated assault?
Yes, simple assault is defined as the misconduct involving no deadly weapon and is just an apprehension of fear caused to the victim whereas in aggravated assault the accused uses a deadly weapon with the intention of causing grievous hurt to the victim by either inflicting harm or death.
Is assault and battery the same?
Assault and battery is not the same but the accused may be charged with assault and battery depending on his offense. For battery, there must be a physical contact by the accused to the victim to cause fear whereas for assault there is an apprehension of fear caused by threat or verbal abuse.
How is misdemeanor offense different from felony?
An offense that is less serious, has caused no harm to the victim, and with imprisonment of less than a year is a misdemeanor such as simple assault. And as for felony, the offense committed is grievous with imprisonment of not less than a year but which may extend depending on the offense of the accused.
Can assault be taken as a ground of self defense?
Yes, depending upon the case. But the most common ground for self defense on the commission of assault is intoxication, revenge and joke. This however is proved based on the evidence made before the court and not just by verbal submission.
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