Assault is a much broader category of crimes than you think.
Most people think a criminal charge for assault must involve something fairly serious (like a punch or slap). But assault charges can be for much less than that.
Assault is technically defined as the unlawful touching of another person. That can include almost anything!
The key is – the touching must be unlawful and without consent. If I consent to you smacking me on the arm, that is not assault. If I do not give my consent, slapping me on the arm could be labelled a criminal assault charge.
However, as a practical matter the police usually charge you for criminal assault only if the situation was pretty significant, or likely to lead there.
Assault charges range from misdemeanor 2ndDegree assault (like a push or a shove) to the more serious felony 1stDegree assault (like a stabbing).
Do you know what to do if you are charged with assault in Maryland? First, read this blog. You can learn a lot in 10 minutes. Then call us for a free consultation on the specifics of your assault case.
Here is some basic information to consider about all Maryland assault cases:
TYPES OF ASSAULT CHARGES
There are two types of assault charges under Maryland law, and you will be charged with one or the other depending on the type of harm caused.
- 1st Degree Assault – intentionally causing, or attempting to cause, serious physical injury to another person. The maximum penalty for this offense is 25 years in prison.
- 2nd Degree Assault – intentionally causing, or attempting to cause, bodily harm to another person. The maximum penalty for this offense is 10 years in prison
The primary difference is the seriousness of the assault. Most assaults are 2nd Degree assaults. However, if a person intends serious or life-threatening harm, that elevates the conduct to a 1st Degree assault. The intent to do the additional harm is what makes the difference here.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & THE SPOUSAL PRIVILEGE
Many assaults begin as verbal arguments between two people in a romantic relationship. The verbal argument escalates into physical contact and becomes an assault.
This special type of assault is called domestic violence, and the criminal justice system is focused on it right now. So if your charges stem from domestic violence, you should expect the state’s attorney to take a more aggressive stand on your case.
In situations where the couple are married, the legal concept of “spousal privilege” may apply.
Spousal privilege allows one party (usually the victim of the assault) to refuse to testify against their spouse in a criminal proceeding. The State cannot compel the spouse to testify.
In most criminal charges, the state’s attorney can compel you to testify. But this is not true if you are married and the other party is your spouse.
This spousal privilege may only be used once in Maryland in relation to a domestic violence charge. For that reason, the state’s attorney may actually force your spouse to get on the stand and invoke their privilege. The state will force you to “burn” your one time use of spousal privilege. If there is a next time, spousal privilege won’t stand in their way.
FIREARMS AND ASSAULT CHARGES
Any assault is a serious charge, but assaults with weapons or firearms are considered especially serious by the court system. Just pointing a gun at someone, without firing it, can be an assault! You need to know that Maryland takes all gun crimes very seriously.
In addition, the presence of a firearm during an assault (or other crime) is a sentencing escalatorfor the Maryland Sentencing Guidelines. That means you may get a higher sentence for your crime just because a gun was present during the incident.
MUTUAL AFFRAY & THE 5thAMENDMENT
A fight to which all parties consent is legally referred to as a “mutual affray.” If both parties willingly and mutually enter into a fight, it is not unconsented contact. But this isn’t likely to help you in your criminal case.
Just winning a fight does not make you guilty of an assault.Some people wrongly think this is the case. But if both sides entered the fight willingly, then it doesn’t matter who won or lost.
In a mutual affray, the State will often prosecute multiple parties to the same incident with assault charges. They will treat everyone as if they started the fight.
If this occurred in your case, consider this insider tip – referred to by criminal attorneys as a “cross-5ths” situation. It is based on your 5thamendment right not to testify against yourself.
Everyone has a right to refuse to testify if they may incriminate themselves by doing so. In a cross-5ths scenario, both parties can invoke their 5thAmendment rights not to testify. If that happens, the State will be unable to win at trial. There will be no witnesses who can testify! This often results in both cases being dismissed by the Judge.
DEFENSES TO ASSAULT
There are many potential defenses to an assault, including self-defense, defense of others and defense of property. Another post will be required to explain these defenses in detail, but for now just keep one thing in mind.
If you are claiming a defense to an assault, it is important that the defensive conduct was reasonable and not more than absolutely necessary. If you went “too far” in the eyes of the state, they will prosecute you anyway.
CONCLUSION & NEXT STEPS
None of this is easy. There are general rules, exceptions to the general rules, loopholes to those exceptions, etc., etc.
If you have been charged with an assault, it is vital to discuss your case thoroughly with an experienced criminal defense attorney.You must explore all your options including any defenses available to you.
Want to know more? Discover what you need to know about criminal law in Maryland. Click here to see our Free Legal Consumer Guide to Maryland criminal law and get answers to your questions today.Know your options. Be informed. Protect yourself.
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