An assault is an intentional attempt or threat to inflict injury made by someone with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. The action must create a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or offensive contact in the person being assaulted. An assault does not require actual touching or bodily harm to the victim. Assault and battery are sometimes used interchangeably but are actually separate and distinct offenses. Battery is an unjustified harmful or offensive touching of another.

An assault is both a crime and a tort. Therefore, an assailant may face both criminal and civil liability. A criminal assault conviction may result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. In a civil assault case, the victim may be entitled to monetary damages from the assailant.

Civil Assault Cases

A victim may pursue civil damages for injuries caused an assault separately from any criminal prosecution. If the victim can prove that an assault was committed he or she may be awarded monetary compensation for any injuries sustained. Damages can be compensatory (such as medical expenses, property damage or lost wages) or punitive. Punitive damages go above and beyond compensatory damages and are awarded in particularly egregious cases as punishment against the assailant.

Elements of Assault

For an assault to occur the act must cause apprehension in the victim that harmful or offensive contact is imminent. Words alone cannot constitute an assault. For example a person threatening to shoot another has not committed an assault unless a gun is visible or apparent. To rise to the level of an assault, the threatening words must be accompanied by some action that indicates the assailant has the apparent ability to carry out the threat.

The act must also be a deliberate, intentional and unjustified interference with another that causes harm. Intent is established if a reasonable person is substantially certain that specific consequences will result from the act. It is immaterial whether the assailant actually intended those consequences to result. Obviously, pointing a gun someone is substantially certain to result in apprehension for the victim.

The victim must also have a reasonable apprehension of imminent injury or offensive contact. Apprehension means an awareness that an injury or offensive contact is imminent. Whether a specific act would create apprehension in the mind of a reasonable person varies depending upon the circumstances. For example, it may take less to create apprehension in the mind of a child than an adult. Moreover, if the victim is unaware of the threat of harm, no assault has occurred. An assailant who points a gun at a sleeping person has not committed an assault. Finally, the threat must be imminent. Threatening to kill someone at a later date is not an assault.