Simple Assault in D.C.

Simple Assault 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 (or “simple”) assault in Washington, D.C.:  (1) attempted-battery assault and (2) intent-to-frighten assault.

In order to prove attempted-battery assault, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant used force or violence either to injure someone or to try to injure someone.  The prosecution must also prove that the defendant intended to use force or violence against that other person. In other words, the defendant’s actions must have been intentional, not a mistake or accident.  Finally, the prosecution must prove that at the time of the attempted battery, the defendant had the “apparent ability” to injure the person.

Similarly, there are three elements to the criminal offense of intent-to-frighten assault.  First, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a threatening act that reasonably would create in another person a fear of immediate injury.  Second, the government prove that the defendant intended either to cause injury or to create fear in the other person.  Finally, the government must prove that at the time of the alleged assault, the defendant had the apparent ability to injure the other person.  

Self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property are all valid defenses to assault.  For example, a person is entitled to use a reasonable amount of force in self-defense if (1) the person actually believes that he or she is in immediate danger of bodily harm and (2) he or she has reasonable grounds for that belief.

“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.  D.C. Code §22-404.

Simple assault in D.C. has traditionally been viewed as a “general intent” offense.  According to this approach, it is enough that the defendant intended to perform the action(s) (swinging his arm,  for example) that constituted the offense.  In recent years, however, the D.C. Court of Appeals has suggested that it might be moving toward a definition of intent that is more consistent with the Model Penal Code.  In that case, the government would need to prove some type of evil intent — or malice — on the part of the defendant.   In Williams v. United States, for example, 887 A.2d 1000 (D.C. 2005), the Court held that the government needed to prove more than that the defendant had thrown the shoe.  It also needed to prove that the defendant had aimed his throw at the complainant.  Similarly, in Buchanan v. United States, 32 A.3d 990 (D.C. 2011), the Court rejected the government’s argument that an assault conviction could be sustained “so long as [defendant] intended the act of flailing his arms, even if he did not mean to strike the officer.”  

If you have been charged with assault in D.C. and are looking for an attorney with experience dealing with this type of case in D.C. Superior Court, please contact Jamison Koehler at 202-549-2374 or   Mr. Koehler promises to try to resolve the matter as quickly and as discreetly as possible. First-time offenders should be eligible for some type of diversion program.

Although your lawyer will be given a copy of the full police report and other pieces of “discovery” at your initial court appearance, you can obtain a copy of an abbreviated police report — the PD-251 — in advance of that hearing by contacting the Metropolitan Police Department.  Instructions on obtaining a copy of your PD-251 are provided here.