While some states have separate laws for domestic violence and criminal assault, Oregon does not make that distinction. Domestic violence crimes in Oregon fall under the laws governing general assault.
Assault in defined in Oregon as an act that causes injury to another person. Oregon law has designated four different levels – or degrees – of assault. Assault in the first degree is the most serious assault crime and assault in the fourth degree is the least serious.
The degree of an assault crime depends on the offender’s intent, the seriousness of the injury, whether a dangerous or deadly weapon was used, whether the offender was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and, in some cases, the identity of the victim. If the victim is the operator of a public transit vehicle, taxi driver, emergency medical services provider or a staff member at a youth corrections facility, the defendant can be charged with a more serious crime such as a Class B felony rather than a Class C felony.
If an assailant intended to cause injury to another and does so, he is guilty of assault. If an assailant intended to commit serious injury to another and does so, he is guilty of assault in the first degree. An act committed recklessly that causes physical injury or serious physical injury to the victim also can constitute criminal assault.
Prior Convictions for Assault Involving Domestic Violence
If an offender commits assault in the fourth degree, the crime is a misdemeanor except in certain circumstances. If, for example, the offender had three or more prior convictions for assault involving domestic violence, the charge will be a Class C felony.
An assault involves domestic violence when:
The offender and victim are family or household members, which includes:
- spouses or former spouses
- adults related by blood or marriage
- persons who have a child together
- persons who live or have lived together, or
- persons who are engaged or were engaged in a sexually intimate relationship.
A reckless act is one that is deliberately committed without regard for the outcome. Pushing someone out of the way on a staircase so that you can get through, without intending to injure the person, could be an assault if the person falls and is injured.
Physical Injury and Serious Physical Injury
An assault resulting in serious physical injury is a more serious crime than an assault resulting in physical injury. Serious physical injury involves significant harm such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, or an injury requiring surgery or hospitalization. The term "physical injury," on the other hand, refers to minor injuries like a cut, scrape or bruise.
Dangerous or Deadly 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 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.
Penalties for Assault in Oregon
A person convicted of a misdemeanor in Oregon can be sentenced to up to one year in jail and 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 a Class B felony can be sentenced to up to ten years in prison or a fine up to $250,000, or both.
A person convicted of a Class A felony can be sentenced up to twenty years in prison or a fine up to $375,000, or both.
A person convicted of assault 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, Deferred or Suspended Sentence, and Probation
Oregon provides for several alternatives to jail or prison that may be available to a person charged with or convicted of assault associated with domestic violence.
An assault charge – particularly a misdemeanor – 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 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 (a highly likely requirement in a case involving domestic violence), 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 but the defendant will not be a convicted felon. If the defendant fails to satisfy the court’s requirements, the court will impose a sentence and enter a conviction into the record.
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 Legal Representation
A conviction for assault involving domestic violence 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 convicted felon loses the right to vote and carry firearms and can lose certain professional licenses. 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.