Understanding Assault in the District of Columbia

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When most people think of “assault”, they imagine a fistfight or some other similar very violent behavior, often with weapons. However, that is not always the case. In the District of Columbia, you can be charged with assault without actually striking or even touching someone. D.C. defines assault as the threat or use of force on another person that caused that person to have a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact. This may occur with a weapon or without, and it includes a person fearing physical contact without their consent. Depending on the situation, actual physical contact does not have to occur. The fear of such contact is enough to charge someone with assault.

There are several levels of assault that can be charged in the District of Columbia:

Simple assault is a misdemeanor and defined as assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner. It is punishable by not more than 180 days in jail and/or up to a $1000 fine.

Assault with significant injury elevates a simple assault to a felony and also includes intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing that person to require immediate medical attention or hospitalization. It is punishable by up to 3 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $12,500.

Aggravated assault is a felony and occurs when a person purposefully or knowingly causes serious bodily harm or injury to another and demonstrates an extreme indifference to human life. It is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000. Attempted aggravated assault is also a felony. It is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $12,500.

An assault charge will escalate if it was committed with the intent to commit another crime such as murder, maiming, permanently disfiguring, robbery, assault with a dangerous weapon, poisoning, sexual abuse, or child abuse.

Assault of a police officer most often carries stiffer penalties than a simple assault. The term “law enforcement officer” includes not only police officers, but firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, prison and jail guards, and others, including civilians, employed by law enforcement agencies or correctional institutions. Assaulting an officer can be levied at two levels:

  1. Assaulting, resisting, intimidating, or interfering with an officer while that officer is acting in his official capacity. This is considered a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or up to a $1000 fine.
  2. The penalty is elevated to a felony if the officer requires medical attention or if the person acts in such a way that creates a major risk of injury that would require medical attention. Level two is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000.

Resisting arrest, even if you can demonstrate that the arrest was unlawful, is not a justifiable excuse for using force against a police officer and you will be charged with assault. A person can be held accountable for resisting arrest as long as they know or believe that the person arresting them is a law enforcement officer.

What to do if you are charged with assault

D.C. assault laws are complex and assault is a crime that often depends on witness accounts and facts that can often be confusing and misleading. If you’re facing assault charges, it’s important to take steps quickly to ensure minimal damage and the most favorable outcome. Avoid responding to charges with anger, despite the frustration you may feel.

Instead, take a moment to collect your thoughts and seek legal representation from a D.C. attorney with expertise in assault cases. This is one scenario you don’t want to deal with on your own. Securing legal representation from an experienced, knowledgeable D.C. assault attorney is the first step to protecting your rights.

We have experience in working with assault cases and are well-versed in the ins and outs of D.C. law. Contact Jay P. Mykytiuk trial attorney immediately at 202.630.1522 to discuss your case in a confidential setting and the best way to proceed.

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