Minnesota Assault Laws and Penalties

Learn how Minnesota classifies and punishes assault crimes.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated March 20, 2024

Minnesota assault convictions carry 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.

Understanding Assault Charges and Classifications in Minnesota

In Minnesota, a person commits an assault by intentionally:

  • placing another in fear of immediate harm
  • inflicting harm on another, or
  • attempting to inflict harm on another.

For example, lunging at someone with a fist would be an assault, as is striking the person or even swinging and missing the person. It's also assault to point or fire a gun at someone.

Minnesota doesn't have a battery offense. Rather, the definition of assault covers both the traditional crimes of assault and battery.

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 has a separate statute for domestic assault. Learn more in our article on Minnesota Domestic Violence Laws.

Terms and Definitions for Assault in Minnesota

The offense level or degree for an assault depends, in part, on the level of harm inflicted and whether the defendant used deadly force or a dangerous weapon. Here's how the law defines these terms.

Definitions of Bodily Harm

Minnesota's assault laws refer to three levels of bodily harm.

Bodily harm refers to physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of a physical condition, such as bruises, scratches, or a bloody lip.

Substantial bodily harm refers to a temporary but substantial injury or disfigurement, such as a broken bone or serious laceration.

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. Shooting or stabbing someone can result in great bodily harm.

Definitions of Weapons and Deadly Force

Harsher penalties apply to assault crimes that involve a dangerous weapon or deadly force.

Dangerous weapons include firearms (loaded or unloaded), combustible or flammable liquids, or any device that can be used to cause death or great bodily harm. Courts have found knives, bats, wood boards, beer bottles, and vehicles to be dangerous weapons because of how they were used.

Deadly force means force used that could cause death or great bodily harm. Deadly force may involve the use of a weapon, such as a firearm or knife, but a weapon is not necessary. A person who beats or kicks someone so severely that they sustain life-threatening injuries has used deadly force.

Is Assault a Felony in Minnesota?

The penalties for assault range from a misdemeanor to a 30-year felony. All five degrees of assault crimes carry felony penalties. The two least serious degrees (fourth and fifth) have misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor penalties. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, a person might get probation, a jail sentence, or prison time. Below are the penalties for assault crimes by degree, starting with the least serious.

What Are the Penalties for Fifth-Degree Assault in Minnesota?

A person commits fifth-degree assault by placing another in fear of immediate harm or causing or attempting to cause another bodily harm. For example, 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 for assault carries a misdemeanor penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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 10 years for prior convictions against the same victim and 3 years for other victims. A gross misdemeanor can mean up to 364 days 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—10 years for crimes against the same victim, otherwise 3 years. A person convicted of felony assault in the fifth degree faces up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

What Are the Penalties for Fourth-Degree Assault in Minnesota?

The crime of assault in the fourth degree provides enhanced penalties for assaults committed against protected victims. 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 particularly vulnerable victims 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.

Proof. Most enhanced penalties require that the prosecution prove the defendant (1) knew or should have known the victim was in a protected class or (2) 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.

Penalties. Depending on the victim and what harm was caused (or attempted), the crime may be classified as a gross misdemeanor or a felony. A gross misdemeanor means up to 364 days of jail time. The felony penalties carry maximum prison sentences of one year and a day, two years, or three years.

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

This felony level applies when an offender:

  • assaults someone and inflicts substantial bodily harm (defined above)
  • assaults a victim younger than four and causes bodily harm or bruising, or
  • assaults a minor younger than 18 and has a past pattern of child abuse against that minor.

Third-degree assault carries up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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

A person who assaults another with a dangerous weapon faces up to 7 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.

For instance, say a wife threatens her husband with a box cutter 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. Had she missed, she'd still face a 7-year sentence.

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

First-degree assault involves:

  • causing great bodily harm to a victim
  • causing great bodily harm to a police officer, judge, prosecutor, or correctional employee
  • using or attempting to use deadly force against a police officer, judge, prosecutor, or correctional employee, or
  • using a dangerous weapon or deadly force against a police officer, judge, prosecutor, or correctional employee and causing great bodily harm.

A conviction for first-degree assault can mean up to 20, 25, or 30 years in prison and fines of up to $40,000. In addition, first-degree assault against a police officer, judge, prosecutor, or correctional employee carries mandatory minimum sentences starting at 10 years of prison time.

Enhanced Penalties for Hate Crimes in Minnesota: Assaults Motivated by Bias

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, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, national origin, gender identity, or gender expression. 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.

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

A conviction for a misdemeanor or felony assault can result in time behind bars, a fine, and a criminal record. If you're 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 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 (2024).)

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