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Legally classified as a violent crime, each state has its own definition of assault. In some, it involves the intentional use of force against another person, such as striking them with a fist or object. Other states require only an attempt to commit a physical attack to charge you with assault. Additionally, these states often include any intentional acts designed to instill the fear of violence in another person as a form of assault. Typically, verbal threats alone do not qualify as assault. The person must commit a physical action, such as approaching with a raised fist or weapon.
If you did not cause serious injury, you likely face misdemeanor assault charges. However, if the victim sustained injury, most states prosecute this as a felony.
Simple Assault Defined
Simple assault is the least serious assault classification and is usually a misdemeanor charge. Injury or threat of violence are minor. Common examples involve shoving or slapping someone during an argument. In states where the threat of violence qualifies as simple assault, a common example is threatening to punch someone while raising your fist.
Accusations of simple assault may be treated more seriously when the assault is committed against individuals in a protected class, such as an elderly person or one with a disability. Some states classify such assaults as either a higher misdemeanor (Class A instead of Class B or Class C), or may upgrade the charge from misdemeanor to felony. Also, states consider this an aggravating factor and levy heavier penalties against the offender, such as longer jail sentences or higher fines (or both).
Simple Assault Penalties
Penalties for simple assault vary from state to state, but commonalities exist. Most states impose jail sentences between six and 12 months for misdemeanor assault, with the judge given discretion in sentencing. The judge considers aggravating and mitigating factors in sentencing. Probation is common, as are punishments like community service, house arrest, and criminal education programs.
To demonstrate the state-to-state variability, we look at simple assault penalties in three states: Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Simple Assault Penalties in Arizona
Arizona classifies simple assault as instilling fear of bodily harm, touching someone with the intent to harm, or causing any physical injury. Threats also fall under simple assault, so threatening the person or property of another may earn you a Class 1 misdemeanor simple assault charge. The maximum sentence is one year in jail; maximum fines are $2,500.
Simple assault becomes a Class 3 felony, though, if it includes threats intended to involve someone in gang activity, and is punishable by up to three-and-a-half years in prison.
Simple Assault Penalties in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania classifies simple assault as a second-degree misdemeanor, unless the incident involved a fight to which both parties consented, which makes it a third degree misdemeanor. Penalties include a maximum sentence of one year in jail and maximum fines of $1,000.
The charge becomes a first-degree misdemeanor if carried out against a child under the age of 12, by an adult over the age of 21. This conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Simple Assault Penalties in Texas
Texas classifies simple assault as one resulting in minor injury. It is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 12 months in county jail and/or maximum fines of $4,000. If the assault includes only touching or threatening, it is a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum $500 fine as penalty. If the victim is a sports official, it becomes a Class B misdemeanor. If the victim is an elderly person, it is a Class A misdemeanor.
Certain aggravating factors push simple assault into third degree felony. If you have a previous domestic violence conviction and committed the assault against either a family member or romantic partner, simple assault becomes a felony. It also becomes a felony if you knowingly committed the assault against a public servant or government contractor for doing his or her job, or assaulted a security guard or emergency services worker while that person was performing his or her job. Third degree felony convictions carry a two- to 10-year prison sentence and maximum fines of $10,000.