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Congressman Etheridge and Simple Assault in D.C.

Jamison KoehlerAssault


While the YouTube video is now posted all over the Internet, I first found out about Congressman Etheridge’s altercation with two students when checking out my website stats through Google Analytics.  I found that visits to the Simple Assault page on my website had gone through the roof.  My summary of the offense was also quoted and linked to in comments all over the web.

At the same time, I’m not sure you need to actually read the definition of simple assault to understand the Congressman’s offense.  This is like the famous statement on pornography:  You know when you see it.  As one person commented, the Congressman’s grabbing of the student’s wrist certainly amounted to an “offensive touching.”  Etheridge’s threatening manner and words should also satisfy the “intent to frighten” element.  I don’t know about you, but I found the Congressman to be pretty damn scary.

I was particularly interested in the Congressman’s statement to the student that the Congressman had a right to know who the student was.  And I liked the student’s response:  We are standing on a public street.

Here for the record is a summary of the offense as defined in D.C.

“Assault” is defined generally as the threat or use of force on another person that causes that person to have reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact.  Assault can be a civil wrong (or “tort”).  It can also be a crime.

There are two forms of misdemeanor assault (that is, simple assault) in Washington, D.C. First, there is “attempted battery assault” which occurs when the defendant injures or attempts to injure another person.  The second form, “intent-to-frighten” assault, is defined as a threatening act that puts another person in reasonable fear of immediate injury.

In both cases, the prosecution must also demonstrate that the defendant’s act was voluntary and that the defendant had the actual ability to injure the other person at the time of the incident.  “Injury” is defined as any physical injury, however slight, and includes an “offensive touching.”  The penalty for either form of this type of assault is $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 180 days.

A more serious form of assault occurs when:  (1) the assault or threatening acts cause significant bodily injury to the victim and (2) the acts that caused the injury were intentional, knowing, or reckless on the part of the offender.  The penalty for this offense is a maximum fine of $3,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years.

“Significant bodily injury” is an injury that requires hospitalization or immediate medical attention.  “Menacing manner” is defined to include:  (1) an act on the part of the accused (which need not result in injury), (2) the apparent ability to injure the victim at the time the act is committed, and (3) the intent to perform the act which constitutes the assault at the time the act is committed.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-404.