I shoved someone and was charged with assault. I didn’t intend to hurt him. Is this a defense?

It's usually not a defense to the crime of assault that you did not intend to injure the victim.

It's usually not a defense to the crime of assault that you did not intend to injure the victim. Although assault laws vary from state to state, in most cases if you intentionally (rather than accidentally) shoved the victim, you can be convicted of assault, whether you intended to injure the victim or not. In other words, it’s the intent to shove, regardless of the intent to cause the resulting injury, that justifies a charge of assault.

However, intending the result as well as the physical act can have consequences. In some states, assaults that are intended to injure are punished more severely. If you live in such a state, then the fact that you did not intend to injure the victim is important because people who intend to injure others often fare worse at sentencing than those who do not.

For more information on assault, see our articles on Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault.

Proving Assault

While the definition of the crime of assault varies from state to state, it can include:

  • causing injury to another person, or
  • causing offensive physical contact to another person.

Depending on the state, in order for the crime of assault to have occurred, there may not need to be any injury to or even physical contact with the victim. In many states, a person can also commit the crime of assault by:

  • attempting to cause injury or offensive physical contact to another person
  • threatening another person (verbally or nonverbally), or
  • putting another person in fear of imminent harm.

Acting Intentionally, Knowingly, or Recklessly

Usually, a person cannot be convicted of a crime based on an act that is accidental. Rather, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.

People act intentionally when their purpose is to cause a particular result or engage in a particular course of conduct. People act knowingly when they are aware of the nature of their conduct or the surrounding circumstances. People act recklessly when they are aware of and consciously disregard the risk their conduct poses to others. Reckless conduct is always a great departure from how a law-abiding person would act.

For example, let’s assume that the crime of assault is committed by intentionally making offensive physical contact with the victim. If you intentionally shoved the victim, then you are guilty of assault. If the crime of assault can only be committed by intentionally injuring the victim, then you are in the clear.

But, if we assume instead that the crime of assault can be committed by knowingly or recklessly injuring the victim, then you can be convicted of assault. In that case, when you shoved the victim, you knew or should have known that shoving someone could cause injury. You acted knowingly or recklessly and are guilty of a crime.

Punishment for Assault

Assault in which the victim is not seriously injured is usually a misdemeanor.

Depending on the state, consequences for a misdemeanor assault conviction can include:

  • jail time
  • community service
  • probation
  • restitution (repayment) to the victim for medical bills, lost wages, or other expenses
  • anger management classes
  • alcohol or substance abuse treatment, and
  • fines.

In some states, intentionally injuring the victim can result in a felony conviction, which can be punished by time in prison, as well as fines and restitution. Assaults are almost always punished as felonies when the victim is seriously injured.

Getting Legal Advice and Counsel

If you are charged with assault, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney. Even if you are charged only with a misdemeanor, a criminal conviction can have serious and lasting consequences. An attorney will be able to make the best arguments on your behalf, in view of the facts of your case. With an attorney’s assistance, you can navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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