Assault Crimes: Understanding the Basics

What is the Crime of Assault?

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.  Generally speaking, first-degree assault is causing or attempting to cause a harmful or offensive contact to another person with the intent to cause substantial injury to that person without legal justification or consent.  First-degree assault is a felony that carries a maximum penalty sentence of up to 25 years of active incarceration. 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?

Generally speaking, second-degree assault is causing or attempting to cause a harmful or offensive contact to another person without legal justification or consent.  Other assaults not involving serious physical injury or a firearm are generally classified as second degree assault.  Second-degree assaults are classified as a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

Emergency Responder Exception: 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, then 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 the crime of assault.

To successfully assert that you were acting in self-defense, you must meet all four of the following criteria:

  • You were not the initial aggressor (you did not start the fight)
  • You believed that 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 to defend yourself

The fourth criteria is often the most critical. You must do only enough to stop the threat of immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm. Going too far, such as responding to a punch with a gun shot or continuing to beat your assailant after they have stopped fighting or have retreated, may eliminate your ability to assert self-defense.

To assert self-defense, you must introduce testimony and evidence showing that you acted in self-defense by meeting the above four criteria. Once you have done that, the burden shifts to the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not act in self-defense.

How Can an Experienced 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 that an experienced Baltimore County assault attorney can identify. These defenses can include the following:

  • 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 eye-witness testimony.  An experienced Baltimore County assault lawyer knows how to ask witnesses the right questions to get to the truth of the matter.  These witnesses need to answer very important questions:  Who was the initial aggressor?  What happened before the alleged assault?  Does self-defense apply?

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

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

And because criminal 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 and even avoid a criminal conviction on your record altogether.

If you have been charged with the crime of assault, contact our Towson office today for a free consultation to speak with an experienced criminal Baltimore County defense attorney about how we can help mount a solid defense and protect your legal rights.