Montana Aggravated Assault Laws

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Felony assault in Montana is known as aggravated assault, and those charged face the possibility of serious penalties, including large fines and substantial time in state prison. Prosecutors may bring a charge of aggravated assault in the following circumstances.

Less serious assaults are charged as misdemeanors. For more information on misdemeanor assault in Montana, seeMisdemeanor Assault in Montana.

For more information on assault with a deadly weapon, see Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Montana.

Knowingly Causing Serious Bodily Injury

A person commits the offense of aggravated assault if the person purposely or knowingly causes serious bodily injury to another person. Serious bodily injury is a physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death. An example of aggravated assault includes physical contact, such as a beating, that places the victim in critical condition or in a coma.

Aggravated assault also occurs when the physical contact results, or can reasonably be expected to result, in serious permanent disfigurement, such as severe facial scars due to boiling water or acid, or extended loss of a part of one’s body or organ. The loss must be more than temporary, but not necessarily permanent. For example, losing one’s spleen after a knife wound to the abdomen, or having to amputate a finger after a bruising fight, would support a charge of aggravated assault.

If the harm is mere “bodily injury,” such as physical pain or the temporary impairment of a physical condition, the charge is likely to be a misdemeanor.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-202, 45-2-101.)

What Constitutes Acting “Purposely or Knowingly?”

In Montana, a person acts purposely when his conscious objective is to achieve a particular result. A person acts knowingly when he is aware that it is highly probable that a particular result will be caused by the person's conduct.

(Mont. Code Ann. § 45-2-101.)

Using Force to Place the Victim in Fear

Another way to commit aggravated assault is to use force or physical contact on the victim, intending to make that victim fear an imminent assault that would cause serious injury or death. For example, grabbing a woman and dragging her into a dark alley while tearing off her clothes is aggravated assault because of the fear of rape created by the contact.

The victim’s fear must be reasonable—the reaction that any reasonable person would have in the same situation. For example, binding someone with duct tape, wrapping him in a rug, and driving to a secluded bridge would most likely cause fear of serious injury or death in a reasonable person. In contrast, striking someone with a neon-yellow foam sword would not be aggravated assault, as a reasonable person would probably not fear serious injury or death from such an action.

(Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-202.)

Penalties for Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault, a felony in Montana, is punishable by a term in the state prison of up to 20 years, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. The sentencing judge may not sentence an offender to pay a fine unless the offender is or will be able to pay the fine.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-202, 46-18-231.)

Assaulting Protected Victims

Montana law provides for additional penalties if the victim of the assault is a protected victim, as described below.

Assaulting a partner or family member

Third and subsequent convictions for assaulting a partner or family member can be considered felonies and punishable by up to five years in state prison. For more information on assault and domestic violence, see Montana Domestic Violence Laws.

(Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-206.)

Assaulting a peace or judicial officer

A person commits felony assault of a peace or judicial officer if the person purposely or knowingly causes:

  • bodily injury to a peace or judicial officer
  • reasonable apprehension of serious bodily injury to a peace or judicial office by use of a weapon
  • bodily injury to a peace or judicial officer with a weapon, or
  • serious bodily injury to a peace or judicial officer.

Punishments include two (and up to ten) years in prison, a fine up to $50,000, or both. If the offender causes serious bodily injury to the peace or judicial officer, then punishments include five (and up to 20) years in prison, a fine up to $50,000, or both.

(Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-210.)

Assaulting a minor

A person commits felony assault on a minor if the offender assaults a victim under the age of 14 and the offender is over the age of 17. Penalties include up to five years in prison, a fine of $50,000, or both. If the victim is under 36 months of age, then the maximum prison sentence is ten to forty years, depending on the harm suffered by the victim and the offender’s criminal history.

(Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-212.)

Hate Crimes Sentence Enhancement

Assaulting a victim because of his race, creed, religion, color, national origin, or involvement in civil rights or human rights activities can add two (and up to ten) years in prison to an existing assault prison sentence.

(Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-222.)

See a Lawyer

It is a good idea to consult with a lawyer as soon as you are charged with aggravated assault, especially given the possibility of jail time. Your attorney can help you to explore your options, such as pursuing diversion programs, raising defenses, or negotiating a plea bargain, in order to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

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