What Is the Crime of Assault?

The seriousness of an assault charge depends on one’s intent, how the assault was committed, and the results of the assault.

Stephen Shepard
February 27, 2018

In the State of Maryland, assault includes making unwanted physical contact with another person, attempting to make unwanted physical contact with another person, or causing another person to fear unwanted physical contact. Maryland’s assault laws combine the crimes that are often separately defined as assault and battery in other states.

The seriousness of an assault charge depends on one’s intent, how the assault was committed, and the results of the assault.


What Is First-Degree Assault?

First-degree assault is the most serious assault charge. It is a felony carrying a maximum prison sentence of up to 25 years. First degree assault includes the following:

  • Intentionally causing serious physical injury to a person
  • Attempting to cause serious physical injury to a person
  • Committing an assault with a firearm


What Is Second-Degree Assault?

Other assaults not involving serious physical injury or a firearm are generally classified as second degree assault. These assaults are classified as a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

If an assault results in an injury to a police officer, parole or probation agent, firefighter, EMT, or other first responder while they are engaged in their official duties, the charge is upgraded to a felony. The maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.


What Is Self-Defense?

Self-defense is an absolute defense to an assault charge. If you committed an act that meets the definition of assault only to protect yourself, you cannot be convicted of assault.

To use self-defense, you must meet four tests:

  • You were not the aggressor (did not start the fight)
  • You believed you were in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm
  • Your belief was reasonable (an average person in a similar situation would have felt the same way)
  • You used no more force than was reasonably necessary

The fourth test is often the most critical. You must do only enough to stop the threat. Going too far, such as responding to a punch with a gun or continuing to beat your assailant after they have stopped fighting, may eliminate your defense.

To claim self-defense, you must introduce evidence showing that you acted in self-defense. Once you do, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not act in self-defense.


How Can a Baltimore County Criminal Defense Attorney Help You With an Assault Charge?

In addition to self-defense, there are numerous other possible defenses to an assault charge. These can include:

  • Accident
  • Mistaken identity
  • Lack of proof of injuries
  • Lack of evidence that an action serious enough to be considered assault occurred

Assault cases are often heavily based on witness testimony. These witnesses need to answer:

  • Who committed the act?
  • How much force did they use?
  • What happened before the act?

Often, these witnesses are biased because they are related to one of the people involved. They may also be mistaken because they were surprised by a sudden commotion, did not see the start of the incident, or feared for their own safety.

Your criminal defense attorney will help you explore possible defenses and challenge the testimony of the witnesses against you. Your criminal defense attorney will also help you look for additional evidence that may help your case, such as additional witnesses or video.

Because assault cases are rarely black and white, there is often an opportunity for a plea bargain. Even if you believe you are guilty, you may be able to have your charges reduced or even avoid a criminal conviction altogether.

To find out more about how to defend against an assault charge, schedule a consultation with a Towson criminal defense attorney.

About The Author

Stephen P. Shepard is a Maryland criminal defense attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Stephen P. Shepard, LLC. He has extensive experience in handling criminal, DUI/DWI, serious traffic, and violation of probation cases. Additionally, he has zealously represented clients at bail review ...

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