An assault conviction carries misdemeanor and felony penalties depending on the level of harm inflicted, the offender's criminal history and motive, whether the victim is in a protected class, and whether a dangerous weapon was involved. This article will discuss how Minnesota classifies and penalizes assault.
Unlike some other states, Minnesota does not use the term battery in statute. Rather, the definition of assault covers both traditional assault and battery crimes. Assault crimes generally involve placing someone in fear of harm, while battery refers to offensive contact or causing harm.
Minnesota defines assault as:
For example, lunging at someone with a fist would be an assault, as is striking the person or even swinging and missing the person.
The law divides assault into five degrees with first-degree being the most serious and fifth-degree being the least serious. Enhanced penalties apply in assault cases motivated by bias. Minnesota law also has a separate statute for domestic assault. Learn more in our article on Minnesota Domestic Violence Laws.
A person commits fifth-degree assault by placing another in fear of immediate harm or causing or attempting to cause another bodily harm. Bodily harm refers to physical pain or injury, such as bruising or a scratch. Here, threatening to slap someone around would be an assault, as would a hit and a miss. Kicking, hitting, hair pulling, or other acts that cause pain, even if minimal, would also be assault.
Misdemeanor. The lowest offense level carries a misdemeanor penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 sentence.
Gross misdemeanor. Assault increases to a gross misdemeanor if the offender used a firearm in any way during the crime or has a prior conviction for assault or other violent offense. The court can look back ten years for prior convictions against the same victim and three years for other victims. A gross misdemeanor can mean up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
Felony. Felony penalties apply if the person has two prior assault or other violent convictions. The same lookback periods apply here—ten years for crimes against the same victim, otherwise three years. A person convicted of felony assault in the fifth degree faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The crime of fourth-degree assault provides enhanced penalties for assaults committed against victims who fall under a protected class. In addition to threatening harm or causing bodily harm, throwing bodily fluids or feces can also be an assault under this section.
Protected class of victims. Protected classes include victims who are particularly vulnerable and those who work in at-risk fields. Vulnerable victims include elderly adults and adults with disabilities. Protected at-risk employees include police officers, emergency responders, health care workers, correctional employees (like prison guards), transit operators, and school employees, among others.
Penalties. Depending on the victim and what harm was caused (or attempted), the crime may be classified as a gross misdemeanor (up to a year in jail) or a felony (with a two- or three-year prison sentence). Most enhanced penalties require that the prosecution prove the defendant assaulted the person while they were engaged in their professional duties or employment. So assaulting someone at a bar who happens to be a transit bus driver wouldn't be subject to an enhanced penalty, but it would still be assault.
Third-degree assault carries up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This felony level applies when an offender:
Substantial bodily harm generally refers to a temporary but substantial injury or disfigurement, such as a broken bone or serious laceration.
A person who assaults another with a dangerous weapon faces up to seven years in prison and a $14,000 fine. If the assault results in substantial bodily harm to the victim, the penalty increases to a 10-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine. Say a wife threatens her husband with a boxcutter and swipes at him, resulting in a laceration down the side of his face. She could face a 10-year sentence for using a deadly weapon and causing substantial bodily harm to her husband.
A conviction for first-degree assault can mean a 20-year prison sentence and a $30,000 fine. First-degree assault involves great bodily harm to a victim or use or attempted use of deadly force against certain criminal justice personnel.
Great bodily harm. Great bodily harm refers generally to life-threatening injuries, serious and permanent disfigurements, and loss of function of any body part or organ. For instance, a person who beats another so badly that the victim loses vision in one eye has inflicted great bodily harm.
Deadly force. It's also a first-degree assault to use or attempt to use deadly force against any of the following professionals engaged in their duties: a police officer, judge, prosecuting attorney, or correctional employee.
Enhanced penalties apply when an assault is motivated by bias or hate. The law states hate crimes include those motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, or national origin. The assailant doesn't need to be correct about their biases to be charged under this law.
A person who commits a misdemeanor assault motivated by bias faces a gross misdemeanor. A subsequent conviction carries a felony sentence of a year and a day in prison.
For felony assault, the maximum penalty increases by 25%. So, for example, a person convicted of second-degree assault that carries a 10-year sentence would face up to 12.5 years in prison if it was a hate crime.
A conviction for a misdemeanor or felony assault can result in time behind bars, a fine, and a criminal record. If you are charged with assault, contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney. Even if the charges are only for a misdemeanor, a conviction can stay on your record for years, impacting future sentences and your ability to get housing or a job. A felony conviction can mean loss of civil rights, such as firearm rights and voting. An attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best outcome in your case.
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.221, 609.222, 609.223, 609.2231, 609.2233, 609.224, 609.2242 (2021).)