Iowa Misdemeanor Assault Laws

Iowa law sets forth a number of assault-related crimes. The crime of misdemeanor assault involves intentionally causing pain or injury to another person or placing another person in fear of offensive physical contact or injury.

A felony assault is one that causes serious injury or occurs in the commission of another felony or sex crime. For more information, see Iowa Felony Assault Laws. Iowa also has a separate crime called assault with a dangerous weapon, discussed in Assault with a Dangerous Weapon in Iowa.

All of these crimes, however, hinge on the basic definition of assault, which in Iowa is:

  • any act intended to cause pain or injury to another, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act
  • any act intended to result in offensive physical contact or to place another in fear of imminent offensive physical contact, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act, or
  • intentionally pointing or displaying a dangerous weapon at someone in a threatening manner.

Actual injury is not required for a crime to be called an assault, nor is actual physical contact.

(Iowa Code Ann. § 708.1.)

Examples of misdemeanor assault might include hitting, pointing a knife at, or threatening to hurt someone in a dark, deserted alley. The law does set certain limits on what can be considered an assault, however. For instance, it carves out exceptions for most voluntary sports or social activities, and for use of force by school employees who intervene to break up a fight or otherwise restore order.

Assaults Associated With Serious Injury, Bodily Injury, and Mental Illness

Iowa punishes assaults that are intended to cause serious injury or that actually cause bodily injury or mental illness more severely than others, as described below. What constitutes these types of injury?

A "serious injury" is one that creates a risk of death, or causes permanent disfigurement or sustained loss or impairment to any body part. Examples of serious injuries provided by the statute include skull and rib fractures and injuries to children that require surgery. Other examples might include gunshot wounds to the chest or knife wounds to the throat.

"Bodily injury" would be any injury that does not rise to the level of a serious injury, such as a bruise or a small cut.

A "disabling mental illness", such as severe post-traumatic stress disorder, could also be considered a serious injury. A mental illness that is not disabling, such as a short-lived period of anxiety, would probably not qualify as a serious injury.

(Iowa Code Ann. § 702.18.)

Assaults on Protected Employees

Someone who assaults one of the following types of employees in Iowa can expect increased punishment, as explained below:

  • law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and parole board members and employees
  • health care providers and firefighters, and
  • department of human services and department of revenue employees.

The prosecutor must show that the defendant was aware of the victim's occupation. Such awareness can often be presumed from the circumstances. For example, a defendant who commits an assault against a hospital doctor was presumably aware of the victim's occupation.

(Iowa Code Ann. § 708.3A.)

Assault in Violation of Individual Rights (Hate Crimes)

An assault is a hate crime when committed because of the victim's own (or due to the victim's association with a person of a particular) religion, sex, sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, political affiliation, age, or disability. Hate crimes are punished more severely, as explained below.

(Iowa Code Ann. § § 708.2C, 729A.2.)

Punishment for Misdemeanor Assault in Iowa

Assault in Iowa will be punished as an aggravated misdemeanor when it is intended to cause serious injury, but does not actually cause serious injury, or is against a protected employee or constitutes a hate crime and causes bodily injury or mental illness. Using or displaying a dangerous weapon can also be an aggravated misdemeanor, though if the weapon is intended to be used to injure or intimidate another person, the crime is treated as a felony. Aggravated misdemeanors are punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $625 to $6,250.

(Iowa Code Ann. § § 708.2, 708.2C, 708.3A, 903.1.)

A serious misdemeanor assault in Iowa is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875 when it causes bodily injury or mental illness or is against a protected employee or is a hate crime.

If no other law applies, Iowa law considers an assault to be a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $65 to $625.

(Iowa Code Ann. § § 708.2, 708.2C, 708.3A, 903.1.)

Domestic Violence

Assaults between family and household members are considered domestic violence in Iowa. Perpetrators are subject to increased punishment and in many cases, mandatory treatment. Family and household members include people who live together or have lived together in the past years, spouses who are divorced or separated, people who have children together, and people who have recently dated one another. For more information, see Iowa Domestic Violence Laws.

(Iowa Code Ann. § 708.2A.)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

Someone who is convicted of misdemeanor assault in Iowa may be looking at a punishment of up to two years in jail as well as a fine and a criminal record. Then again, a defendant might—most likely with legal help—be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed, or obtain a not guilty verdict at trial.

If you are charged with assault, an Iowa criminal defense attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court based on the facts, and on the identity and typical approach taken by the local judge and prosecutor. If you are facing an assault charge, you should contact a criminal defense attorney who can help you navigate the court system and achieve the best outcome in your case.

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