Misdemeanor Assault in New York

In New York, an assault occurs when a person injures someone else without legal justification. Assault can be charged as either a misdemeanor or differing levels of felonies.

In New York, an assault occurs when a person injures someone else without legal justification. Assault can be charged as either a misdemeanor or differing levels of felonies. The different levels of assault depend on several factors, including the severity of a victim's injury, whether the defendant used a weapon or object to cause an injury, whether the defendant caused the injury while committing another crime, and (in some cases) whether a victim is provided special protection by New York law. This article deals solely with misdemeanor assault.

(N.Y. Penal Law § 120.00).

To read about felony assault, see Felony Assault in New York.

What is Misdemeanor Assault?

A person commits misdemeanor assault by improperly causing someone else to suffer a "physical injury." The injury must have been caused either intentionally or recklessly. Misdemeanor assault can also occur if a person negligently (carelessly) injures someone else by using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

(N.Y. Penal Law § 120.00).

Physical injury

A "physical injury" occurs when a victim suffers at least some physical – not mental – injury or pain. New York law defines "physical injury" as "impairment of physical condition or substantial pain."

(N.Y. Penal Law § 10.00).

Acting intentionally

A person causes an injury intentionally when the person basically wants the injury to occur. Further, under New York law, as long as the defendant intended to injure someone, a defendant can be charged with assault for injuring any other person – even someone other than the intended victim. In other words, if the defendant essentially "missed" the intended victim and hit and injured someone else instead, it is still an assault. In the end, what matters is whether the defendant wanted to cause an injury, not whether the defendant actually injured the intended victim.

Acting recklessly

A person acts recklessly "when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that" his actions will cause an injury. In other words, a person is reckless when he is aware that his actions will likely cause the injury, but he just doesn't care. Note that being voluntarily drunk or high does not provide a defense to reckless assault.

(N.Y. Penal Law § 15.05).

Acting negligently

A person is criminally negligent when he fails to realize that his actions will almost certainly cause an injury.

(N.Y. Penal Law § 15.05).

Deadly weapon or dangerous instrument

A "deadly weapon" includes a loaded firearm, several kinds of knives (for example, switchblades, gravity knives, daggers), a billy, a blackjack, and plastic or metal knuckles. In contrast, a "dangerous instrument" is any object (including a vehicle) that, while not usually a weapon, can nonetheless be used in a way that is readily able to cause death or serious injury. For example, hitting someone with a bar stool could constitute assault with a dangerous instrument.

(N.Y. Penal Law § 10.00).


Misdemeanor assault is a Class A misdemeanor. A defendant convicted of misdemeanor assault can be sentenced to a jail term not to exceed one year, or placed on probation for three years, and fined up to $1,000 as well.

If a defendant is sentenced to jail, he receives a "definite" jail term. In other words, the jail term is a set amount of time, which could be anywhere between one day to one year.

(N.Y. Penal Law § 70.15).

Consult With a Lawyer

Being charged with assault, even misdemeanor assault, is a serious matter. It is quite advisable to consult with an attorney having knowledge of the assault laws and penalties applicable in your particular case. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney may be able to convince either a prosecutor or a jury that a defendant either did not intend to cause an injury or at least did not cause a serious enough injury to merit a charge of assault. That could result in lesser punishment (perhaps by pleading guilty to a lesser offense such as disorderly conduct) or even dismissal of a case.

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