Felony Assault Laws in Hawaii

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In Hawaii, an assault occurs when a person physically injures another person, without legal justification. Hawaii has three assault crimes: first- and second-degree assault, which are Class B and Class C felonies; and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. The different degrees or levels of assault depend upon several factors, including the seriousness of the victim’s injury, whether the defendant actually wanted to cause the injury, and (in some cases) whether Hawaii law gives the victim special protection.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 707-711, 707-712)

To learn about misdemeanor assault in Hawaii, see Misdemeanor Assault in Hawaii.

First-degree Assault

First-degree assault is the most serious assault crime because it applies to the most severe injuries, and also requires that the defendant basically wanted to cause the injuries. To commit first-degree assault, a person must cause what the law calls “serious bodily injury” to a victim. Further, the person must cause the injury “intentionally or knowingly.”

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-710.)

Serious bodily injury

Every assault crime involves an injury to a person’s body, which Hawaii law defines as “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.” A “serious bodily injury” goes beyond the basic definition; it happens when a victim’s injury “creates a substantial risk of death or . . . causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-700).

Acting intentionally or knowingly

To secure a conviction of first-degree assault, a prosecutor must also prove that the defendant acted knowingly or intentionally. Basically, this means showing that the defendant wanted to cause the serious injury. Similarly, a person acts knowingly if he knows that it's almost certain that his conduct will cause the injury.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 702-206(1)(c), (2)(c).)

Second-degree Assault

Second-degree assault is less serious than first-degree assault. There are four ways to commit second-degree assault.

Substantial bodily injury

A person can commit second-degree assault by either intentionally or knowingly causing a “substantial bodily injury” to a victim. In other words, a person must want to cause the injury. Such an injury is less severe than the “serious bodily injury” called for by first-degree assault, but goes beyond the simple pain or impairment of a mere “bodily injury” that will support a misdemeanor charge.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-711(1)(a).)

Recklessly causing serious or substantial bodily injury

A person acts recklessly if “he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct will cause” the injury (Haw. Rev. Stat. 702-206(3)(c)). In other words, a person is reckless when he is aware (or should be aware) that his actions will cause the injury, but he just doesn’t care. A person can be convicted of second-degree assault for reckless conduct that causes either serious or substantial bodily injury. (Of course, as explained above, deliberately causing substantial bodily injury will result in a first-degree assault charge.)

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-711(1)(b).)

Intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury with a dangerous instrument

A second-degree assault also occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly caused simple “bodily injury” by using what the law refers to as a “dangerous instrument.” In essence, second-degree assault can occur if a person wants to injure a victim and does so by using a gun or other weapon, or even something that, while not usually a weapon, can nonetheless be used in a way that can cause injury. For example, a simple pencil can be a dangerous instrument if it’s used to stab a person’s eye. Most of the time, “bodily injury” is the least serious form of injury, usually resulting in a charge of only misdemeanor assault. But when a person wanted to cause the injury by using a weapon, Hawaii lawmakers decided that a more severe crime occurred.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-711(1)(d).)

Special victims

Finally, Hawaii gives special protections to certain types of victims who receive only “bodily injury.” Normally, mere bodily injury results in a misdemeanor charge, but when these victims are involved, it’s a felony. Singled out for protection are assault victims who are:

  • correctional workers either performing their duties or in a correctional facility
  • educational workers either performing their duties or in an educational facility
  • emergency medical service providers performing their duties
  • persons employed at a state-operated or contracted mental health facility performing their duties
  • firefighters or water safety officers performing their duties, or
  • a person who either has a restraining order against the defendant, or is being protected by a police officer who has ordered the defendant to leave the premises of the protected person.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-711(a) – (h).)

Penalties

The penalties for felony assault vary depending upon whether the conviction is for first- or second-degree assault. Obviously, the more serious the crime, the more severe the penalty.

First-degree assault

This is a Class B felony and the most serious assault crime. Defendants must receive a prison sentence with a maximum term of 10 years. Most of the time, the minimum sentence a person must serve is determined by Hawaii’s Paroling Authority. But if the defendant is a repeat offender or used a firearm when committing assault, Hawaii law provides for certain minimum prison terms. In addition to a prison sentence, a person convicted of first-degree assault can be fined up to $25,000.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 706-660, 706-640(1)(b).)

Second-degree assault

This crime is a Class C felony, carrying a prison sentence with a maximum term of 5 years. Again, the minimum sentence will be set by the Hawaii Paroling Authority unless the person convicted is a repeat offender or used a firearm during the crime. A person convicted of second-degree assault can be fined up to $10,000.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 706-660, 706-640(1)(c).)

Consult With a Lawyer

A felony assault charge is a serious matter. Defendants will benefit from consulting with an attorney having knowledge of the assault laws and penalties applicable in your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will have a sense of how to convince either a prosecutor or a jury that a defendant either did not intend to cause an injury, or did not cause a serious enough injury to merit a charge of felony assault. That could result in a lesser charge (such as a misdemeanor charge), a lesser punishment, or even dismissal of a case.

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