Felony Assault Laws in Hawaii

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In Hawaii, an assault occurs when a person physically injures another person, without legal justification. Assault in the first degree is a Class B felony and the most serious assault crime. Assault in the second degree is a Class C felony. Assault in the third degree is 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. §§ 707-710, 707-711, 707-712.)

To learn about misdemeanor assault in Hawaii, see Misdemeanor Assault in Hawaii. For more information assaults involving handguns, firearms, and dangerous weapons, see Assault with a Dangerous Instrument in Hawaii.

Assault in the First Degree

Assault in the first degree is the most serious assault crime because it applies to the most severe injuries, and also requires that the defendant intended to cause the injuries. To commit first-degree assault, a person must intentionally or knowingly cause serious bodily injury to another person.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-710.)

Serious bodily injury

In Hawaii, serious bodily injury means bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. Examples of serious bodily injury include prolonged or permanent loss of eyesight, extensive facial injuries requiring multiple surgeries, and severe scarring.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-700.)

Acting intentionally or knowingly

To secure a conviction of assault in the first degree, a prosecutor must also prove that the defendant acted knowingly or intentionally. Basically, this means showing that the defendant wanted or intended 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.)

Assault in the Second Degree

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.)

Hawaii defines substantial bodily injury as bodily injury which causes:

  • a major abrasion, laceration, or penetration of the skin
  • a burn of at least second degree severity
  • a bone fracture
  • a serious concussion, or
  • a tearing, rupture, or corrosive damage to the esophagus, viscera, or other internal organs.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-700.)

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. 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 serious bodily injury will result in a first-degree assault charge.)

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 702-206, 707-711.)

Intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury with a dangerous instrument

A second-degree assault also occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injury by using 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.

Bodily injury requires the least amount of injury and usually results in a charge of misdemeanor assault. However, when a person intentionally uses a weapon to harm someone, Hawaii lawmakers decided that a more severe crime occurred.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-711.)

In Hawaii, “bodily injury” means physical pain, illness, or impairment of physical condition. Common examples of bodily injury include deep bruises, large scrapes, and pinched nerves.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-700.)

For more information on assault with a dangerous instrument, see Assault with a Dangerous Instrument in Hawaii.

Special Victims

Finally, Hawaii gives special protections to certain types of victims who suffer 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.)

Assault against a law enforcement officer

A person commits assault against a law enforcement officer in the first degree by:

  • intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to a law enforcement officer performing his duties, or
  • recklessly or negligently causing bodily injury with a dangerous instrument to a law enforcement officer performing his duties.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-712.5.)

Assault against an emergency worker

A person commits assault against an emergency worker if the person, during an emergency period proclaimed by the governor or mayor, within the area covered by the emergency or disaster:

  • intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes serious or substantial bodily injury to an emergency worker, or
  • intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to an emergency worker with a dangerous instrument.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 707-712.7.)

Penalties

The penalties for felony assault vary depending upon whether the conviction is for assault in the first degree or assault in the second degree.

Assault in the first degree

Assault in the first degree is a Class B felony. 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 the 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.

If the assault or attempted assault causes death, serious bodily injury, or substantial bodily injury to someone who is 60 years or age or older, blind, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or younger than nine years old, the minimum prison sentence is three years and four months.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 706-660, 706-660.1, 706-640, 706-660.2.)

Assault in the second degree

Assault in the second degree 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.

If the assault or attempted assault causes death, serious bodily injury, or substantial bodily injury to someone who is 60 years or age or older, blind, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or younger than nine years old, the minimum prison sentence is for one year and eight months.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 706-660, 706-660.1, 706-640, 706-660.2.)

Assault against a law enforcement officer

Assault against a law enforcement officer in the first degree is a Class C felony, carrying a prison sentence with a mandatory minimum of five years. In addition to a prison sentence, a person convicted of first-degree assault against a law enforcement officer can be fined up to $10,000.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 707-712.5, 706.660, 706-640.)

Assault against an emergency worker

Assault against an emergency worker is a Class B felony, carrying a prison sentence with a maximum term of ten years. In addition to a prison sentence, a person convicted of first-degree assault against a law enforcement officer can be fined up to $25,000.

(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 707-712.7, 706-660, 706-640.)

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 the case.

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