What is simple assault?

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The law provides protection for citizens from harm at the hands of others, even if that harm is relatively minor. The law not only recognises malicious violence meted out with deadly weapons and deadly force but also threats of impending violence and inadvertent harm.

The law recognises that, in family settings and social events, disagreements can escalate into altercations involving violence from battery to simple assault.


Assault, as defined by the law, is often confused by laypeople with battery. The easiest distinction is intent and action, which are carried by assault and battery, respectively. A person is said to be committing an assault when she is threatening to do bodily harm to another person and apparently has the capability of completing the harm. A prime example would be someone holding a knife or gun and threatening to use the weapon. The law also recognises assault as an attempt to cause harm, even if the attempt is thwarted or uncompleted.


While one version of assault involves more of a threat than anything else, another version of assault is when the victim is touched by someone and does not want or welcome the touch. That touch can be anything from a push or a shove to a slap or a strike with a weapon. Finally, another version of simple assault occurs when one person causes injury to another, even if it was unintentional.

Escalating Elements

There are a number of elements that will escalate the seriousness of a simple assault, including assaulting a child under the age of 12; an adult male assaulting a woman and/or an adult assaulting a sports official. In most states, these elements will escalate the level of assault in the eyes of the law, as well as the according penalties.


The law defines assault as either simple or aggravated. Typically, a simple assault is committed when a person is threatening to use fists or feet to do bodily harm to another person. The end result is usually very little injury or no injury at all.

An aggravated assault occurs when the threat to do bodily harm is escalated by the display of a weapon, especially a weapon that is against the law to have or to brandish. A prime example would be someone threatening to shoot someone and then discharging a gun that misses.

Potential Charges

Because assault typically refers to the intent to cause bodily injury, charges may be coupled with attempted battery, which essentially means that the person was attempting to cause physical harm, but failed in the attempt. Charges of assault and attempted battery could come as a result of firing a gun and missing or swinging a bat and missing.

Another partner charge is more serious and can accompany the firing of a gun that misses the target. The according charge could be aggravated assault or assault with the intent to murder, which carries a far more serious penalty than simple assault.


While aggravated assault can carry severe punishment under the law, simple assault is usually punished with a fine and sometimes minimal jail time. Other forms of punishment include assignment of community service; anger management courses; probation and the revocation of any weapons license. When meting out punishment, the authorities will consider prior assault charges and whether the person committing the assault was doing so in the act of self-defence. If the person was being harassed prior to committing the assault, that may also be used to determine the level of severity of the intent to do bodily harm.


Sentencing for simple assault charges may not be as straightforward as one might expect. There are many different issues that can be presented to the court that may affect the penalties. Past violence of the other party, self defence, harassment or stalking by the other party may be seen as mitigating factors to the charges. In addition your attorney can work to move the case to probation or community service and anger management classes, possibly avoiding all issues with jail time.