Felony Assault in Kentucky

Learn how Kentucky defines and penalizes felony assault crimes.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated March 29, 2023

In Kentucky, a person who commits felony assault can face serious prison time. The state differentiates between felony and misdemeanor assaults by the risk and level of harm involved. Kentucky classifies felony assaults as first-, second-, and third-degree assaults and misdemeanor assault as fourth-degree assault.

This article will review felony assault crimes and penalties in Kentucky. More information on misdemeanor assaults can be found here.

What Constitutes Felony Assault in Kentucky?

An assault occurs in Kentucky when a person physically injures (or, in some cases, simply attempts to injure) another person, without legal justification. Kentucky penalizes assault crimes based on the defendant's culpability in committing the act, the resulting harm, and whether a dangerous instrument or weapon was used.

Most felony assaults involve serious physical injuries to a victim or an increased risk of harm to victims through a defendant's use of a weapon or conduct that shows extreme indifference to human life. A person convicted of felony assault in Kentucky faces anywhere from one to 20 years in prison.

Felony Assault Definitions in Kentucky Law

Below are key definitions that distinguish the various degrees of felony assault in Kentucky. You can also jump ahead to the penalties sections by clicking here.

Intentional, Wanton, or Reckless Acts

To prove assault charges, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted intentionally, wantonly, or recklessly. Here's how these mental states break down in terms of culpability.

Intentional. Acting intentionally basically means that a person wants to cause injury. In other words, the person acted in a way to get a particular result. For instance, a defendant who hits someone in the face to knock them unconscious has acted intentionally.

Wanton. A person acts wantonly by ignoring the fact that his conduct will cause a certain result. The person must be aware of, but basically not care, that such conduct creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm. An example would be driving a car into a crowd.

Reckless. A person acts recklessly by failing to realize (though it is readily obvious) that the conduct will cause an injury. For example, throwing a glass bottle at someone is likely to cause an injury.

Physical Injuries and Serious Physical Injuries

Every assault crime involves a physical injury to a victim's body, which Kentucky law defines as "substantial physical pain or any impairment of physical condition." Examples of physical injuries include bruises, cuts, bloody noses, and abrasions.

A serious physical injury goes beyond the basic definition of pain or impairment. Serious physical injury results from an assault that "creates a substantial risk of death, or . . . causes serious and prolonged disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health, or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ." These injuries can include broken bones or injuries requiring surgery, stab wounds that damage internal organs, and severe burns. Kentucky courts have also found that injuries requiring several months of healing time are considered prolonged.

Deadly Weapons and Dangerous Instruments

Using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument increases the criminal degree of assault in Kentucky.

Deadly weapon. Kentucky defines a deadly weapon as:

  • a gun from which a shot could be fired
  • a knife (other than an ordinary hunting or pocket knife), and
  • other objects traditionally viewed as weapons, like blackjacks, billy clubs, karate sticks, and brass knuckles.

Dangerous instrument. A dangerous instrument, on the other hand, is a substance or object, including a body part, capable of causing death or serious injury by the way in which it's used. For example, a steel-toed work boot can be a dangerous instrument if used to kick a victim's head. Spraying oven cleaner on someone and causing chemical burns would qualify as a dangerous instrument. Other examples are bats, crowbars, and glass bottles. Vehicles are also considered dangerous instruments under Kentucky law.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 500.080 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for First-Degree Assault in Kentucky?

First-degree assault is the most serious assault crime. It can be committed in one of two ways:

  • by intentionally inflicting a serious physical injury on a victim by using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, or
  • by wantonly engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another and causing them serious physical injury.

Examples. Some examples of first-degree assault include shooting or stabbing someone and inflicting serious injuries that require surgery, or hitting someone with a bat and breaking their arm. Driving at a high rate of speed, passing a vehicle, and ramming into the vehicle is an example of wantonly engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death. It can be first-degree assault if anyone in the vehicle suffered serious bodily injuries.

Penalties. A person convicted of first-degree assault in Kentucky faces Class B felony penalties of 10 to 20 years in prison, plus fines of $1,000 to $10,000. A judge would also likely order a defendant to pay restitution to an injured victim.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 508.010, 532.032, 532.060, 534.030 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for Second-Degree Assault in Kentucky?

The next most serious assault offense is second-degree assault. A person commits second-degree assault by:

  • intentionally causing serious physical injury to another
  • intentionally causing physical injury by using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, or
  • wantonly causing a serious physical injury using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

Examples. A person who intentionally pushes someone down a flight of stairs, resulting in the victim suffering broken bones, has likely committed second-degree assault. Kicking someone in the leg with a stiletto heel and cutting them could also be second-degree assault. A driver who mixes drugs and alcohol and causes a crash with another vehicle, which results in injuries to passengers, has wantonly caused another harm with a dangerous instrument.

Penalties. A conviction for second-degree assault is a Class C felony, with a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. A defendant would likely also be ordered to pay restitution to victims injured in the crime.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 508.020, 532.032, 532.060, 534.030 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for Third-Degree Assault in Kentucky?

Third-degree assault charges apply when a person commits misdemeanor (or fourth-degree) assault against a "protected victim." It's the victim's protected status that raises a misdemeanor assault to a felony assault under this section. These assault crimes involve physical injuries (rather than serious physical injuries).

Third-Degree Assault Crimes and Protected Victims

It's considered third-degree assault to intentionally injure or even attempt to injure any of the victims listed below. The crime can also be charged if a person injures or attempts to cause injury by acting recklessly while using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

Protected victims. Victims protected under Kentucky's third-degree assault law include:

  • peace officers, parole officers, and probation officers
  • employees of adult correctional or juvenile detention facilities
  • inmate transport officers who are performing job-related duties
  • emergency medical service personnel, firefighters, and rescue squad personnel who are volunteers or paid and performing job-related duties
  • social workers employed by the Department for Community Based Services who are performing job-related duties in direct client services, and
  • public or private school employees and bus drivers, as well as school volunteers, who are acting within their scope of duties.

Throwing feces or bodily fluids. A person can also commit third-degree assault by throwing feces or bodily fluids at a police officer or correctional employee. These crimes occur when:

  • an inmate or detainee throws feces or bodily fluids at a facility employee, or
  • any person intentionally throws or causes a police officer to come into contact with feces or bodily fluids (and the person knows or should know the officer is engaged in their duties).

Penalties for Third-Degree Assault

The penalties for third-degree assault vary depending on the circumstances of the offense. Most third-degree assault crimes are Class D felonies, punishable by one to five years of prison time.

However, if a person assaults an emergency worker or officer during a state of emergency, the penalty increases to a Class C felony with penalties of 5 to 10 years' incarceration. Misdemeanor penalties apply for intentionally causing an officer to come into contact with bodily fluids or feces.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 508.025, 532.032, 532.060, 534.030 (2022).)

Kentucky's Persistent Felony Offender Sentencing

The above penalties apply to first-time felony offenders. Repeat felony offenders who are 21 or older face enhanced penalties if they have prior felony convictions. Anyone considered a persistent felony offender will face enhanced sentences of incarceration and becomes ineligible for probation options and possibly parole.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 532.080 (2022).)

Consult With a Lawyer

Being charged with felony assault is a serious matter. If you face felony assault charges, contact a criminal defense attorney who works in your jurisdiction. A defense attorney can guide you through the criminal legal process, protect your rights, and zealously defend your case.

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