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What Does "Felonious Assault" Mean?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A felonious assault is generally defined as an attack or threat of an attack on another individual in which the attacker uses a dangerous weapon and seeks to cause serious harm, but stops short of an attempt to kill the victim. The exact definition varies from one jurisdiction to another, with different interpretations of intent and different conditions and distinctions drawing the line between misdemeanor and felony charges, but most agree on this basic premise. Further distinctions are often drawn between different grades of felonious assault to better fit the punishment to the specific crime. For instance, assault and battery, where an attacker has caused a level of harm to an individual that medical attention is required, is one form.

Not every attack can be defined as a felonious assault. Simple assault, in which the attacker is unarmed and any actual attack does not result in serious injury, is only a misdemeanor, and the legal penalties are usually far less severe. On the other hand, an attacker who deliberately seeks to kill is guilty of murder or at least attempted murder.

Felonious assault can include other crimes that do not fit neatly into this broad definition. Attackers who cause a serious injury can be guilty of it, even if they were unarmed. Most forms of sexual assault are classified as felonies as well. Attacks against infants and small children are usually classified as felonies without requiring that an attacker be armed, and in some jurisdictions, an actual or threatened unarmed attack against a pregnant woman might constitute an assault against the unborn child as well as the mother. Some jurisdictions have taken the concept of assault beyond the simple physical attack and have ruled that certain communicable diseases, such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), are dangerous weapons, meaning that those who fail to disclose a positive diagnosis of AIDS or HIV to a sexual partner might be guilty of felonious assault.

Penalties for those convicted of this crime vary dramatically, depending on the local laws and specifics of the attack, and in most regions, judges have considerable leeway in sentencing. Many jurisdictions, however, require a prison sentence that, depending on the exact charge and any relevant circumstances, might be measured in years or even decades. Fines and probation also are possible outcomes, depending on the circumstances. In many areas, the severity of the sentence can increase dramatically for attacks on law enforcement officials.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998716 — On Aug 11, 2017

I live in Tennessee. My daughter was staying with my ex boyfriend while I was working one night with his friend and friend's daughter. She called me early morning and said he touched her. I went to the house she was at got her in the car and went right away to get a knife from the kitchen drawer as I intended to use it for safety while I also got my house key from ex boyfriend. I only put it to his throat when he took the keys from me and wouldn't let me get my house key. Is this a felonious assault or would it be a misdemeanor at most?

By lapsed — On May 02, 2011

@roser - It depends very much on the circumstances and it's certainly something you'd have to hire a lawyer for. It also depends on the assault law of where you live, which can vary widely. Some places will assess assaults based on self-defense or defense of another person, but in some countries like New Zealand even homeowners have been convicted for attacking burglars. Know your rights!

By roser — On May 01, 2011

Is it still classed as felonious assault if you're defending yourself from an attacker but you end up causing a level of harm that medical attention is required for them?

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