Misdemeanor Assault in Alabama
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In Alabama, an assault occurs when a person intentionally or recklessly causes physical injury to another person. The state differentiates between misdemeanor assaults and felony assaults—the latter are more serious. Alabama classifies misdemeanor assault as assault in the third degree.
Assault in the Third Degree
A person commits assault in the third degree, classified as a Class A misdemeanor, in any of the four ways discussed below:
- by intending to and causing physical injury to another person
- by recklessly causing physical injury to a person
- by causing, with criminal negligence, physical injury to another with a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument, or
- by causing physical injury to another person while intending to prevent a peace officer from performing a lawful duty.
(Ala. Code § 13A-6-22.)
What Constitutes “Physical Injury?”
Physical injury is an impairment of someone’s physical condition, or substantial pain. A judge or jury must often determine whether an alleged victim has suffered a physical injury based on the facts of a case. Courts have determined the following to constitute a physical injury: cuts and abrasions that bled; pain resulting from three kicks to the victim’s shin and a stomp to the victim’s foot; a black eye resulting from a punch; shotgun pellet wounds; a “busted lip;” a “skint nose;” and a month-long headache.
(Ala. Code § 13A-1-2.)
What Constitutes a “Deadly Weapon?”
A deadly weapon is a firearm or anything designed, made, or adapted for the purposes of inflicting death or serious physical injury. While not an exhaustive list, other examples of a deadly weapon include a knife, stiletto, sword, dagger, billy, black-jack, bludgeon, or metal knuckles. To learn more, see Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Alabama.
(Ala. Code § 13A-1-2.)
What Constitutes a “Dangerous Instrument?”
A dangerous instrument is any instrument, article or substance that, under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used, or threatened to be used, is highly capable of causing death or serious physical injury. For example, a wrench, motor vehicle, or piece of wood could constitute a dangerous instrument if used to strike another person.
(Ala. Code § 13A-1-2.)
What Constitutes “Criminal Negligence?”
Criminal negligence is more serious than simple negligence or carelessness, which accompanies most accidents. A person acts with criminal negligence by failing to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk. For example, causing an automobile accident while driving five miles per hour over the speed limit might result in civil liability against the driver. On the other hand, driving considerably faster than the speed limit and causing injury to someone might result in a criminal charge.
(Ala. Code § 13A-2-2.)
Penalties for Assault in the Third Degree
Someone convicted of assault in the third degree can be subjected to any or all of the following penalties:
- Incarceration. Not more than one year of hard labor for the county or imprisonment in the county jail.
- Fines. The court can impose a fine up to $6,000. If the defendant received a pecuniary gain as a result of the crime, the court can impose a fine up to double the pecuniary gain received by the defendant, even if the amount exceeds $6,000. For example, if a defendant steals property and sells it, he has received a pecuniary gain. The Court can then impose a fine totaling twice the amount received.
- Probation. A person on probation regularly meets with a probation officer and fulfills other terms and conditions, such as maintaining employment and attending counseling.
- Community service. Courts often include as a part of probation the requirement that the defendant work for a specified number of hours with court-approved organizations, such as charities.
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-6-22, 13A-5-7, 13-A-5-12.)
Alabama requires a minimum sentence of three months in jail if the misdemeanor assault was motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.
(Ala. Code § 13A-5-13.)
See a Lawyer
If you are facing a charge of misdemeanor assault, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.
A lawyer’s skillful negotiation with the prosecutor can sometimes result in a reduction of charges or a reduction in penalties, such as less jail time, no jail time, probation, and lower fines. A local criminal defense attorney, who knows how the prosecutors and judges involved in your case typically handle such cases, can assist with these negotiations. And if you decide to go to trial, having a good lawyer on your side will be essential.