Thursday, May 5, 2011

Assault - Defenses (Explained)

A charge of Assault - even if it is a Misdemeanor - is a serious offense. Not only can you suffer consequences in court (such as the imposition of a fine and/or jail time) but you could also be subject to collateral consequences - such as the loss of your privilege to own and possess fire-arms, your job, and in some instances even your home.

That being said, Assault is often a very difficult offense for the government to prove - especially if there are no witnesses to the incident and/or there are no physical injuries as a result of it.

When fighting these charges, an experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney should explore a number of possible defenses, including:
  • That There Was No Intent
An Assault charge requires that the government prove that you intended to put someone in reasonable fear of physical harm and/or that you intended to use unlawful physical force on someone.  As such, one way to fight this charge is to demonstrate that you lacked intent.

An example: You're playing pool. Intending on taking a shot, the cue leaves your hands and strikes another patron who walks by at just that moment. The other person is struck by the cue and as a result is harmed. In this case, the prosecutor would have a difficult time arguing that you committed an Assault because the act (the pool cue leaving your hands and striking the other patron,) it could be argued was an accident; you never intended it to happen.
  • The Harm Was Not Immediate
Under Minnesota Law, Assault is defined as is putting someone in fear of immediate bodily harm or death. Therefore, the way you fight this charge is to demonstrate that the believed harm was not immediate - nor was harm or death the intent of the act.

For example, you approach someone who owes you money - stomping your feet and stating loudly, "If you don’t pay your debt to me before the end of the day, you'll regret it!"  As a result, you're charged with Assault. 

Here, I'd argue that no such Assault occurred because the "harm" you sought to do wasn’t immediate enough. As a matter of fact, any harm that would take more than a few seconds to occur often disqualifies Assault as a possible charge. Furthermore, any fear the victim would have felt from your "threat" probably isn’t even reasonable since "you’ll regret it" is a fairly vague statement.
  • Self-Defense
Another powerful argument is the one of self-defense. Often it can be asserted that although an Assault did occur, the person charged with it only acted as such because the "victim" had threatened him. In cases such as this, it is often a question for the judge (or jury) to determine. In doing so, they'll look at: Who was the aggressor? Was the belief that self-defense was necessary a reasonable one?" (and/or) Did the defendant use only reasonable force to defend himself?

You do have a right to defend yourself; however, you have to be cautious when doing as much. Self-defense does not give you a license to kick-ass.

Additionally, you also have the right to defend others - but (again) an analysis similar to that used when self-defense is raised is employed by the trier of fact.
  • Attack the Witnesses' Credibility 
One of the best defenses is to challenge the credibility of witnesses - including members of law enforcement.  An experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney will probe any and all aspects of a witness' statement and the police reports - to root out any inconsistencies and/or the omissions. 

What Should You Do?

If you or someone you love has been charged with Assault, the first, best step you should take is to speak with an experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney. He can  help to preserve evidence, investigate and interview witnesses that you cannot or should not talk to yourself.

You can also help yourself by staying away from the alleged victim, following any conditions imposed upon you by the judge and avoid consuming any mood altering substances. In addition, NEVER talk to the police.  Statements that you provide them often will do more harm than good. You have the right to remain silent - use it.  Let your attorney do the talking for you.

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