DC Assault FAQ’s

What is simple assault in DC?

In DC, simple assault carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. Because the maximum penalty is less than one year in jail, it is a misdemeanor charge. To prove you guilty of simple assault, the government must prove the elements of one of two possible theories. The first is “attempted-battery” assault where the government must prove (1) with violence or force against another person, the defendant (2) intended to use violence or force against that person; and (3) the defendant had the apparent ability to injure that person.

Alternatively, the government may proceed on a theory that the defendant intended to frighten the complainant where it must prove (1) the defendant committed an act that was threatening and it reasonably would create in another person immediate fear of injury; (2) the defendant intended to cause injury to or to scare the complainant; and (3) the defendant had the ability to injure the complainant.

That means this type of assault charge, physical force is not required. Sometimes, the government can convict based on threatening words and actions. Under both theories, these are what the law considers “general intent crimes.” General intent is slightly easier to prove than “specific intent” crimes because the government only has to prove that you intended to do the action that caused the assault—not that you specifically intended to assault the person.

What are defenses to simple assault?

Like all crimes, certain defenses exist where even if the government proves the elements, you may not be convicted. Self-defense is the most common defense to simple assault and/or other assaultive type criminal offenses. To demonstrate you acted in self-defense, you must show (1) you actually believed that you were in imminent danger of bodily harm; and (2) you had reasonable belief. This defense, however, is based on a hypothetical “reasonable” standard, which can be difficult to pin down. For example, if someone shoved you, a court would not likely find it reasonable that you stabbed them in response. That would not likely fly as “reasonable” under DC law.

Another defense to simple assault, in cases where parents are charged with assaulting their children, is reasonable parental discipline. In fact, to convict a parent for assaulting their child, the government must actually prove the physical act was not part of reasonable parental discipline. You’ll notice that buzzword “reasonable” again in these types of cases. It’s a standard that can be tough to pin down but again using a serious amount of force against a child would likely never constitute “reasonable parental discipline.” Some things the Court may consider is the age of the child and the bad behavior that caused the parent to discipline the child.

Another defense to assault type crimes is defense of others. This defense is similar to self-defense but instead of fearing for imminent bodily harm, someone uses force to protect a third-party. To make a showing of defense of others, you would need to show (1) you actually believed that the other person was in imminent danger of bodily harm; and (2) you had a reasonable belief. Again, proportionality is important for this defense. Shooting someone who shoved your friend or severely beating a person in those circumstances would not qualify.

Other defenses include misidentification, mistake or accident, and consent. In a misidentification case, you are arguing that the complaining witness identified the wrong person and that someone else actually committed the crime. Mistake or accident is exactly how it sounds. That defense you must show you did not intentionally commit the assault. For example, if you tripped and fell into another person and they thought it was intentional, you would argue mistake or accident. Finally, the defense of consent is that the complaining witness consented to whatever physical conduct occurred.

Is simple assault jury demandable?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. In the District of Columbia, unlike most jurisdictions, the right to a trial by jury has been seriously diminished by both the City Council and the government prosecutors.

To be eligible for a jury trial, the offense the government charges you with must carry a maximum penalty of over 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. Most misdemeanors in DC, including simple assault, carry as a maximum penalty: you guessed it, 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. In misdemeanor cases where the maximum penalty qualifies as a jury demandable offense (a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail or 1 year in jail), the government almost always amends the charge to “attempt” whatever the offense is. They amend the charges because the general attempt statute in DC carries a maximum penalty of . . . 180 days in jail and/or $1,000.00 fine.

In 2016, the DC City Council, amended the assault on a police officer statute to be a jury demandable offense. The council did this intentionally. However, the government found another way to deny a defendant a right to trial by jury by simply amending most assault on a police officer cases to simple assault.

What other type of assault charges are there in DC?

As previously mentioned, assault on a police officer is another crime involving assaultive conduct. For these cases, there is the added requirement that the complaining witness (or alleged victim) was a police officer. In addition, non-violent assault involving sexual touching replaces the element of force with “sexually touched.” Misdemeanor child cruelty is a charge that involves a parent using force against a child as previously mentioned and misdemeanor sex assault is a crime with the added element that you intended to cause either fear or shame or humiliation and/or mental anguish in a person and that the defendant did so without consent of the complainant.

In addition, several felony assault type crimes exist in this jurisdiction, which include assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with significant bodily injury, assault with intent to kill, and assault with intent to murder. These all constitute serious felony charges that included added elements the government must prove dealing with the seriousness of the alleged victim’s injury, whether a weapon was used during the commission of the assault, and what specific intent

Should I hire an attorney?

When facing assault charges, whether misdemeanor or felony, it is crucial that you hire a DC assault attorney who will answer your questions and can help you navigate the court system. At Scrofano Law PC, you will find you aggressive attorneys who will give you answers and explain to you what to expect.  If you or someone you know has been arrested for an assault offense, call Scrofano Law PC immediately for a full case evaluation.