Oregon recognizes four levels – or degrees – of assault. A person is guilty of assault in the fourth degree – the least serious assault offense under Oregon law – if he:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes physical injury to another, or
- as a result of criminal negligence, causes physical injury to another with a deadly or dangerous weapon. (Or. Rev. Stat. §163.160.)
A reckless act is one that is deliberately committed without regard for the outcome. Pushing someone out of the way in a crowd so that you can get through, without intending to injure the person, could be an assault if the person falls and is injured.
A criminally negligent act is one that is not intentional but that occurs because the actor fails to exercise reasonable care in a situation where there is a substantial risk of harm to others. The negligence must constitute a “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” (Or. Rev. Stat. §161.085(10).) An accidental shooting can be a negligent assault if it results from a person being particularly careless when handling or firing a gun.
The physical injury involved in assault in the fourth degree must be a minor injury like a cut, scrape or bruise. Injury such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, or requiring surgery or hospitalization is a “serious physical injury.” If the offender causes this kind of injury, the crime is a more serious, felony assault.
Deadly or Dangerous Weapon
A deadly weapon is an object that by definition is capable of causing death or serious physical injury. Examples of deadly weapons include a firearm, large hunting knife, and brass knuckles.
A dangerous weapon is an object that may not normally be a weapon but is used or threatened or attempted to be used in a way that it could readily cause death or serious physical injury. A rope used to strangle someone, a metal pipe used to strike or attempt to strike someone, and a vehicle driven by a reckless or intoxicated driver that strikes a pedestrian are all dangerous weapons because of the manner in which they were used.
Class A Misdemeanor or Class C Felony?
Assault in the fourth degree in Oregon is a Class A misdemeanor except for certain circumstances.
Assault in the fourth degree is a Class C felony if:
- the offender was previously convicted of an assault crime against the same victim
- the assault was committed in the presence of or witnessed by the offender’s or the victim’s minor child, step-child, or a minor who resides with the offender or victim
- the offender commits the assault with knowledge that the victim is pregnant, or
- the offender has three prior convictions for assault involving domestic violence.
An assault involves domestic violence if the offender and victim are family or household members – such as spouses or former spouses, adults related by blood or marriage, persons who have a child together, persons who live or have lived together or who are engaged or were engaged in a sexually intimate relationship.
Penalties for Assault in the Fourth Degree
A person convicted of a Class A misdemeanor in Oregon can be sentenced to up to one year in jail or a fine up to $6,250, or both.
A person convicted of a Class C felony can be sentenced to up to five years in prison or a fine up to $125,000, or both.
A person convicted of assault in the fourth degree in Oregon must pay restitution, which involves reimbursing the victim for any expenses resulting from the crime, such as the cost of medical treatment or counseling or repair or replacement of damaged property. Unless the victim agrees to accept a lesser amount, the person convicted must pay the entire amount of expenses and losses that the victim incurred.
Civil Compromise, Suspended Sentence and Probation
There are several alternatives to jail or prison available to a person charged with or convicted of fourth degree assault in Oregon.
An assault charge can be dismissed if the defendant and the victim agree, with the judge’s approval, that the matter has been resolved through some other means, such as a letter of apology or reimbursement for expenses incurred by the victim. The court also must consider the district attorney or prosecutor’s position on the proposed agreement, though the court can allow a civil compromise over the district attorney’s objection.
After the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty to an assault charge, the court can grant a deferred sentence. This means that the court postpones sentencing for a period of time on the condition that the defendant comply with certain requirements, such as no new arrests or criminal offenses during the conditional period, psychological treatment, or volunteer work in the community. The court also may require the defendant to be on supervised probation. If the defendant satisfies all the court’s requirements, the charge will be dismissed at the end of the period. The arrest and dismissal will be part of the defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant fails to satisfy the court’s requirements, the court will impose a sentence and enter a conviction.
If the court suspends a sentence, the court imposes a jail or prison sentence but allows the defendant to serve all or a portion of the time on probation rather than in jail or prison. The defendant must successfully complete probation and any other conditions the court imposes or he will be required to complete the sentence in jail or prison. A person on supervised probation must meet with a probation officer and comply with conditions such as treatment, maintaining employment, curfews, drug tests, and avoiding any further criminal activity or arrests.
The Value of Good Representation
A conviction for assault becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A conviction for a violent crime – even a misdemeanor – can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options or represent you at trial.
Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.