The common law crime of assault is defined as causing a reasonably prudent person to apprehend the imminent occurrence of a harmful or offensive touch. Traditionally, there did not need to be an actual contact between the person committing assault and the victim; if the contact actually did occur then it was called “battery” and was frequently treated as a separate crime from the assault. However, the State of Maine has slightly changed the common law definition of an assault.
Assault in Maine. In Maine, a basic assault charge is defined as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caus[ing] bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person.” (Maine Criminal Code 17-A §207). As cited, the crime of assault is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a fine of not less than $300.
Of course, as with many other criminal charges, the crime of assault may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense depending on a number of factors. These factors include the age of the perpetrator and the victim, whether the perpetrator has prior convictions for the offense, the use of certain weapons during the assault and whether the assault caused serious bodily injury. Other aggravating factors include assault using a dangerous weapon (where the actor intends to inflict serious bodily injury), assault performed with a terroristic intent, and assault coupled with a depraved indifference to human life.
Class C Felony Assault: Prior Convictions. The basic misdemeanor assault charge can be elevated to a Class C felony charge under certain circumstances. Essentially, if the perpetrator of the crime has, within the previous 10 years, been convicted of two other offenses of a certain category, the assault becomes a Class C felony. This class of assault provides for a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
While a full exploration of all of the prior convictions which can give rise to an elevated charge of Class C felony assault is beyond the scope of this post, the offenses are detailed in 17-A §1252 (4-A).
Class B Felony Assault: Using a Dangerous Weapon, Causing Serious Injury, or Manifesting Extreme Indifference. Assault may be elevated to a Class B felony, punishable by as many as 10 years in prison, in a case where the perpetrator’s conduct implicates the factors described above. (Maine Criminal Code 17-A §208).
One factor is whether the perpetrator causes serious bodily injury to another. Under this provision of the statute, it is not enough that bodily injury could have resulted from the assault; rather, it must actually have occurred.
The law defines the qualifying injury as “injury to another that creates a substantial risk of death or extended convalescence necessary for recovery of physical health” or “serious, permanent disfigurement or loss or substantial impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” As such, a simple injury such as a black eye, a split lip, and other injuries common to altercations would probably not qualify. Rather, the injury must be serious enough to cause a legitimate risk of death, require an extended recovery time, or leave a permanent disfigurement or impairment.
A second element that can trigger the Class B felony charge is an injury caused by the use of a dangerous weapon. Exactly what qualifies as a “dangerous weapon” is broadly defined as a firearm or other weapon in the manner used is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.
Finally, the Class B felony charge may be charged where injury is caused under circumstances that demonstrate that the actor manifests “extreme indifference to the value of human life.” As with the definition of a dangerous weapon, exactly what is “extreme indifference” will vary on a case by case basis.
Class A: Felony Assault: Elevated Aggravated Assault. Under the most extreme circumstances, an assault may be charged as a Class A felony with a maximum sentence of as much as 30 years in prison. Class A felony assault requires proof of serious bodily injury in connection with one of three other factors: intentional injury with the use of a dangerous weapon; conduct that manifests a depraved indifference to the value of human life, or conduct undertaken with terroristic intent. (Maine Criminal Code 17-A §208-B).
The first factor involves intentionally or knowingly causing serious bodily injury by the use of a dangerous weapon. Conduct involving a depraved indifference to the value of human life is more serious than the conduct showing an extreme indifference to the value of human life necessary for the Class B felony assault. Further, for a Class A felony charge to lie, it is required that the conduct involve the use of a dangerous weapon.
Finally, conduct that causes serious bodily injury with terroristic intent may be charged as a Class A felony. Terroristic intent is defined as an intent to cause injury or death to multiple victims, an intent to cause damage to multiple structures, or an intent to substantially damage critical infrastructure. when done with intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, or impact the conduct of government. (Maine Criminal Code 17-A §2(25)).
Conclusion. The crime of assault covers a wide range of conduct. At its most basic level, it is a relatively minor crime that may be resolved without actual prison time. At its most serious, it may result in a substantial jail sentence and serious collateral consequences that impact a person for his or her entire life. For more information on assault, or for advise about any criminal law issues you may have, please contact us.