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What Are the Different Types of Assault Charges?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 16, 2024
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Assault occurs when someone creates a threatening state toward another person, causing the victim to reasonably fear bodily harm. Words alone are not enough, and must be accompanied by an indication of the ability to carry out the threat. Aggravating circumstances, such as the use of a weapon, can raise the level of assault charges from a misdemeanor to a felony based on the severity of the offense. In addition to criminal fines or jail time, the attacker may have to pay a substantial settlement to the victim through civil judgment.

The definition of assault is the threat to cause harm, and battery is non-consensual contact. In most jurisdictions, no actual injury is necessary to levy assault charges. Battery can be classed as general intent to harm rather than specific if the victim gets in the way of an attack on another person. Gross or reckless negligence resulting in non-consensual contact, whether intended or not, would be charged as battery. The two are often combined in cases where contact follows the threatening action.

Simple assault charges are usually categorized as a misdemeanor resulting in fines, anger management classes, and community service. The action generally does not result in serious injuries or make use of a weapon, enabling defense attorneys to obtain probation if there is no prior criminal history. If the assault is a reaction to harassment or stalking by the victim, this factor would mitigate charges against the accused. A good attorney can get an uncomplicated case reduced to disorderly conduct, leaving less of a stain on the person’s record.

Felony assault charges carry a more serious penalty than simple assault. Sexual assault usually means jail time, and in many jurisdictions the perpetrator will have to register as a sex offender. Sentences are harsher when the attacker is engaged in criminal activity at the time of the assault, such as in a mugging, and if the victim is a minority, a child, or a police officer. If the victim dies, felony assault charges may be upgraded to voluntary manslaughter or even second-degree murder.

A person who is assaulted can sue the attacker in civil court for medical expenses, lost wages, and in some jurisdictions, punitive damages designed to punish the attacker. The monetary penalty may be substantial. A restraining order may be filed against the accused, limiting freedom of movement. Assault charges that result in a criminal conviction will cause loss of gainful employment if imprisonment occurs, and any fines or civil judgments can be taken from the sale of personal property.

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Discussion Comments
By anon983366 — On Dec 29, 2014

What about failing to report computer assault? Is this assault or complicity?

By anon327290 — On Mar 27, 2013

Is it assault if two parties were fighting and both were cut with a knife?

By Ana1234 — On Jan 27, 2013

@KoiwiGal - It's an important distinction, definitely, although I think there are different definitions in different places. And it gets very tangled once you get into the legality of different kinds of assaults.

Domestic violence, for example, was once not considered assault because the husband essentially "owned" the wife and she was expected to just allow him to do whatever he wanted.

Now, it's treated the same as any other kind of assault, most of the time, which is excellent.

It gets even more interesting in places like Singapore where the punishments for assault are sometimes corporal, because they had to put a special law in place preventing the people who deliver that punishment from being prosecuted for assault themselves in doing their job.

By KoiwiGal — On Jan 26, 2013

I didn't realize that the definition of assault was actually just threatening to cause harm, rather than the harm itself.

It sounds like it's a bit broader once sex is involved, since sexual assault seems to include threats and the actual action, rather than just the threats by themselves.

That's good because often the threat of violence seems to be brushed off as not important if no actual violence follows. But threatening someone to force them into something is not a good thing. I guess aggravated assault is when someone actually makes contact, or maybe when they use a deadly weapon.

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