New Hampshire's Assault Laws and Penalties

Learn how New Hampshire defines and punishes first-degree, second-degree, and simple assault.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 6/27/2024

In New Hampshire, assault crimes carry sentences ranging from fines and jail time to life in prison. Learn how New Hampshire defines and punishes different degrees of assault.

Understanding Assault Crimes in New Hampshire

A person commits assault by causing physical harm or unprivileged contact with another person. Assault crimes start as misdemeanors but increase to felonies when the level or risk of harm increases, a weapon is involved, or the victim is a child. Below are definitions to aid in distinguishing the different assault crimes in New Hampshire.

Assault Definitions

The following definitions relate to contact, injuries, and weapons. The more harm one does to a victim, the more serious the penalties are.

Unprivileged contact is any contact not permitted by law or consent. Shoving, slapping, hair pulling, and grabbing someone's wrists are examples of unprivileged contact.

Bodily injuries generally refer to physical injury or pain that doesn't rise to the level of serious bodily injuries. Examples of bodily injuries include bruises, scratches, abrasions, and sprains.

Serious bodily injury means any harm to the body that causes severe, permanent, or protracted injuries or impairment to another's health. A black eye that was swollen shut for three days and resulted in blurred vision for two weeks was considered a serious bodily injury. Fractures, internal bleeding, gunshot or knife wounds are other examples.

Deadly weapons include firearms, knives, or other substances or items that can be used to produce death or serious bodily injury (such as a pipe, baseball bat, or crowbar).

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 625:11 (2024).)

Level of Culpability (or Wrongdoing)

New Hampshire's assault penalties also vary based on the defendant's level of culpability.

Purposely or knowingly. When a person acts purposely or knowingly, the person intends to cause harm or do the specific act, or is aware the conduct will result in such harm. Punching someone in the face or shoving them down a set of stairs are purposeful and knowing acts.

Recklessly. A person acts recklessly by engaging in behavior and consciously ignoring the likely result. Reckless conduct constitutes a significant departure from how a law-abiding citizen would act. Throwing a beer bottle at someone would be a reckless act because the bottle could easily shatter and cause injuries.

Negligently. Negligent acts are those that a person failed to contemplate would cause harm. Swinging a large drinking glass around and hitting someone in the head would be a negligent act.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 626:2 (2024).)

What Is Simple Assault in New Hampshire?

A person commits simple assault by:

  • purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injuries to another
  • negligently causing bodily injuries to another with a deadly weapon, or
  • purposely or knowingly making unprivileged contact with another.

Examples of Simple Assault in NH

Punching, kicking, or slapping someone and causing them bruises, physical pain, or cuts are examples of simple assault. Swinging a large, heavy beer mug in a crowded bar and hitting someone could be assault. Other examples of simple assault include angrily pushing someone down on the ground or forcefully grabbing their arm.

Penalties for Simple Assault in NH

Simple assault carries misdemeanor penalties. When assault involves violence or threat of violence, the crime will be a class A misdemeanor. Other assaults (except mutual fights) are class B misdemeanors. Mutual fights are violations.

A class A misdemeanor carries up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. A person convicted of a class B misdemeanor faces a maximum fine of $1,200.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 631:2-a (2024).)

What Is Second-Degree Assault in New Hampshire?

Second-degree assault is the next most serious assault level in New Hampshire.

A person commits second-degree assault by:

  • knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily injuries to another
  • purposely or knowingly causing bodily injuries to a child younger than 13
  • purposely or knowingly strangling someone
  • recklessly or negligently causing injuries resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth
  • recklessly causing bodily injuries with a deadly weapon, or
  • recklessly causing bodily injuries under circumstances showing an extreme indifference to human life.

Second-degree assault is a felony.

Examples of Second-Degree Assault in NH

A simple example of second-degree assault would be punching someone in the face and breaking their nose and jaw. Another example showing reckless behavior would be shoving someone near a set of stairs, which results in the victim falling down the stairs and breaking their arm. A person who engages in a high-speed car race near pedestrians shows extreme indifference to human life and could face second-degree assault charges (among other charges) if someone is injured trying to get out of the car's way.

Penalties for Second-Degree Assault in NH

A person convicted of second-degree assault faces penalties for a class B felony. The maximum penalty for a class B felony is seven years of incarceration. This penalty increases to 20 years if the defendant used a firearm in the offense.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 631:2, 651:2 (2024).)

What Is First-Degree Assault in New Hampshire?

The most serious assaults fall under first-degree assault. A person commits first-degree assault by:

  • purposely causing serious bodily injury to another
  • knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child younger than 13
  • purposely or knowingly causing bodily injury using a deadly weapon, or
  • purposely or knowingly causing injuries to another resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth.

Examples of First-Degree Assault in NH

Purposely kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach to harm her unborn child will be first-degree assault if the woman suffers serious bodily injuries or miscarries. Throwing a young child to the ground and breaking their leg would be first-degree assault, as would stabbing someone with a knife. Punching and kicking someone in the head and causing them to lose unconsciousness and suffer hemorrhaging would also be first-degree assault.

Penalties for First-Degree Assault in NH

First-degree assault carries class A felony penalties, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. However, a person who commits first-degree assault with a firearm can be sentenced to up to 20 years.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 631:1, 651:2 (2024).)

Enhanced Penalties for Assault Crimes in New Hampshire

New Hampshire law authorizes judges to impose extended terms of imprisonment when an assault crime fits any of the following categories:

  • The assault was a hate crime based on a victim's religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, national origin, sex, or gender identity.
  • The defendant targeted a person knowing they were a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical care provider acting in the line of duty.
  • The assault took place in a safe school zone.
  • The defendant assaulted a child younger than 13.

An extended term can also be imposed if the defendant has two prior convictions for felonies or sentences of more than one year.

Extended felony term. When the underlying crime is a felony, the judge can order a minimum sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum sentence of up to 30 years. However, this penalty increases to 25 years to life if the defendant committed first-degree assault of a child younger than 13 resulting in likely permanent brain damage or physical disability.

Extended misdemeanor term. When the underlying crime is a misdemeanor, the judge can impose a minimum sentence of up to two years' incarceration and a maximum of 5 years.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 651:6 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing assault charges in New Hampshire, talk to a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you understand how the criminal system works, what's at stake in your case, and whether you have any possible defenses.

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