Kentucky classifies assault crimes into four degrees, with first degree being the most serious and fourth degree the least serious. The state differentiates between felony- and misdemeanor-level assaults by the risk and level of harm involved. Assaults in the first, second, and third degrees are felony assaults. Fourth-degree assaults carry misdemeanor penalties.
This article will review charges and penalties for fourth-degree assault. To learn about felony assaults, click here.
An assault occurs in Kentucky when a person physically injures (or, in some cases, simply attempts to injure) another person, without legal justification.
There are three ways to commit fourth-degree assault:
A convicted defendant commits a class A misdemeanor.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 508.030 (2022).)
To charge any variant of fourth-degree assault, the prosecutor must prove the victim suffered a "physical injury." In addition, the defendant's conduct must fall into one of the three categories above—intentional, wanton, or reckless.
Kentucky law defines a physical injury as "substantial physical pain or any impairment of physical condition." For example, slapping someone on the back will not cause an injury sufficient to merit an assault charge, but punching someone in the face could. Other examples of physical injuries include bruises, bloody noses, cuts, and abrasions.
A defendant can only be convicted of assault for intentional, wanton, or reckless acts of harm. In other words, to commit a crime, a defendant must have a culpable state of mind. Doing some act that accidentally causes someone harm isn't a crime.
Intentional. For instance, it's assault if a defendant hits a bar patron intending to cause them harm. But if the defendant tripped and accidentally knocked out the bar patron's tooth with a beer bottle, no crime was committed.
Wanton. Acting wantonly means the defendant knew the act would likely cause injuries to another but chooses to ignore the risk. An example might be yanking someone's arm so hard it pops out of joint.
Reckless, plus weapon. A person acts recklessly by failing to realize (though it's readily obvious) that the conduct will cause an injury. For a reckless act to constitute assault, it must also involve a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. For example, a defendant could be convicted for recklessly hurling a bottle (dangerous instrument) at someone's head, because it's likely throwing a glass bottle at someone will cause an injury.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 500.080 (2022).)
A person convicted of fourth-degree assault faces class A misdemeanor penalties of 90 days to one year in jail and a $500 fine. A judge will also likely order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim.
A judge may allow a defendant to serve their time in the community, rather than behind bars, on probation. Misdemeanor probation can last two years or the time needed to pay full restitution. Other sentencing alternatives that may be options include house arrest, diversion, community service, or conditional discharge.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 533.020, 533.070, 534.040 (2022).)
If you're facing charges of fourth-degree assault, contact a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help explain the criminal legal process, protect your rights, and zealously defend your case.