Welcome to Everyday Legal Terms. These are short terms that occur frequently out in the world but are not always explained as they should be. Our preferred resource for the definitions of these terms is Black’s Law Dictionary, which is typically seen as the penultimate law dictionary in all the land.
Today’s Everyday Legal Term is the criminal form of Assault. This varies from civil assault in terms of standards of proof and levels of intent enough that you could be liable for civil assault, but not guilty of criminal assault. Keep that in mind if you ever feel like swinging at someone on the sidewalk just for fun or scaring you neightbor because he let his dog poop on your lawn. You could always get sued, and really that would be dumb.
From Black’s Law Dictionary:
Assault: “An unlawful attempt of offer, on the part of one man, with force or violence, to inflict bodily hurt upon another.”
Basically, this is the crime of “attempted battery.” They key to assault is failing to make contact when swinging a punch or kick. If you make contact it becomes a battery. Key to this crime is the actual ability to carry out a battery; like you would have hit the person if you weren’t so hammered that standing up, let alone connecting on a punch, was an issue for you. Also key to this crime is the intent to carry out a battery. If you don’t mean to do it, then you didn’t commit the crime.
Many times when the police are charging people with this crime it is actually as a substitute to battery. There are various reasons for this, but one of the key reasons is that it is easier to prove. It is easier to show that a defendant took a swing at someone than it is to prove that a defendant hit someone, even if the victim has injuries. Going back to the drunkenness example, say an altercation takes place in a bar, there are going to be witnesses, but about 98% of them will be some level of intoxicated. Most of them should have a story about how someone threw a punch, but not many will be able to say that it landed and caused a black eye, and some witnesses might also say that the victim slipped and hit his face on the bar.
If that applies to you, be thankful. You might be in jail, but the difference between assault and battery can be the difference between a week in jail and a few months, as assault is typically charged as a misdemeanor and battery is often charged as a felony.