An assault is a crime that's defined in different ways, depending on the state. Under one approach, it involves intentionally making another person feel that they are about to be physically harmed, or trying to hit or strike someone but missing. Actually connecting is called a "battery." No actual physical injury is needed to establish assault under this approach.
Other states do away with the assault versus battery distinction, and describe an assault as attempting or succeeding in striking someone, and a battery as an actual blow.
For more information on assaults and batteries, and links to each state's approach to these crimes (including aggravated assaults and assaults with dangerous weapons), see Assault and Battery.
Steps to Take if You've Been Falsely Accused
If you have been accused of assault, the first thing you should do is realize that this is a serious criminal offense and it should not be taken lightly. Defendants should never think that because they are innocent, they could never be found guilty. Many innocent people get convicted of crimes they did not commit. Therefore, it is important to take the necessary steps to defend yourself. These might include:
- Prepare for the cost of your defense. Unless a court determines that you cannot pay for the cost of your defense (and gives you appointed counsel), you will need to hire a lawyer. It is never a good idea to represent yourself in a criminal matter.
- Preserve evidence and document your case. Write down the details of the events, and preserve any physical evidence. Make a list of all potential witnesses that may be able to help your case.
- Educate yourself. You're about to become part of the criminal justice system. It's a good idea to learn a little about what to expect.
- Know your rights. If you are questioned by the police, you have the right to remain silent. It is in your best interest not to answer any questions without the advice of legal counsel.
For information on the typical course of a criminal case, start with Criminal Law: Arrests, Defendants' Rights, & the Criminal Justice Process.
Sometimes people make false allegations of assault, for a variety of reasons. These might include:
- You may have been falsely accused due to mistaken identity.
- You may have acted in self-defense.
- You may have acted in defense of another person around you.
The Importance of Hiring a Lawyer
A person falsely accused of committing a crime faces the same challenges as any criminal defendant and requires competent legal counsel. Skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers know their way around the criminal justice system and can navigate through the complex legal system on your behalf.