Misdemeanor Assault in Kentucky

A misdemeanor assault occurs in Kentucky when a person physically injures another person, without legal justification. Kentucky has four assault crimes: first-, second-, and third-degree assault, which are, respectively, Class B, Class C, and Class D felonies. The least serious assault crime is fourth-degree assault, which is a Class A misdemeanor and the subject of this article.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508.030.)

To learn about felony assault in Kentucky, see Felony Assault in Kentucky. For more information on assault and domestic violence, see Kentucky Domestic Violence Laws.

Misdemeanor Assault

There are three ways to commit misdemeanor assault:

  • intentionally causing a physical injury,
  • wantonly causing a physical injury, and
  • recklessly causing a physical injury by using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

The following sections explain these situations in detail.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508.030.)

Physical injury

For a prosecutor to charge any variant of misdemeanor assault, a victim must have suffered a "physical injury." 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.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 500.080.)

Acting intentionally

Acting intentionally basically means that a person wants to cause injury.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 501.020.)

Wanton behavior

Acting wantonly differs from acting intentionally in that a prosecutor will not have to show that a defendant actually wanted to cause an injury. Instead, the prosecutor will need prove only that a defendant knew that acting in a certain way would cause an injury and that, rather than stopping, the defendant continued in his actions. In other words, a person acts wantonly by basically ignoring the fact (or not caring) that his conduct will cause an injury.

Many people assume that if they cannot think straight after consuming drugs or alcohol, they can't be charged with a crime that involves descision-making - in this case, ignoring the consequences of one's acts. The law has long since foreclosed this possible defense. Voluntary intoxication will not excuse a defendant's claimed inability to realize that his conduct could cause an injury. Being drunk or high will not be a defense to a charge of wanton misdemeanor assault.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 501.020.)

Reckless misdemeanor assault using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument

A person acts recklessly by failing to realize (though it is readily obvious) that his conduct will cause an injury. For example, hurling a bottle at someone's head will likely cause an injury.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 501.020.)

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

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 500.080.)

A dangerous instrument, on the other hand, is an object, or even body part, that, while not usually a weapon, can nonetheless be used in a way that can cause death or serious injury. For example, a simple pencil can be a dangerous instrument if it's used to stab a victim's eye.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 500.080.)


The penalties for misdemeanor assault can range from probation to a jail term, plus a fine.

A judge can impose a sentence of probation or a conditional discharge (meaning no supervision by the probation department) when a defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor. Such a sentence cannot exceed two years.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 533.020.)

If a defendant gets a jail term, the sentence cannot exceed 12 months. Kentucky has what is called a "definite" sentence for misdemeanor convictions, meaning that the sentence could be a day in jail, or 40 days in jail, or any other number of days, but no more than 12 months.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 532.090.)

A fine for a misdemeanor conviction cannot exceed $500.00. A defendant found by a judge to be indigent does not have to pay a fine.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 534.040.)

Consult With a Lawyer

Though the crime explained here is not a felony, it is still a serious matter to be charged with misdemeanor assault. As a result, it is quite advisable to consult with an attorney having knowledge of the assault laws and penalties applicable in your case. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will have a sense of how to convince either a prosecutor or a jury that a defendant either did not intend to cause an injury, or did not cause a serious enough injury to merit an assault charge. That could result in a lesser charge (perhaps something like disorderly conduct), a lesser punishment, or even dismissal of a case.

Talk to a Lawyer

Start here to find criminal defense lawyers near you.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to a Defense attorney

We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you