Assault Law & Legal Definition


Degrees of assault are defined according to state laws. Laws vary by state, but generally, assault in the first degree is defined as when a person:

1. With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, s/he causes serious physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument; or

2. With intent to disfigure another person seriously and permanently, or to destroy, amputate or disable permanently a member or organ of his/her body, s/he causes such an injury to any person; or

3. Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, s/he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious physical injury to any person; or

4. In the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempted commission of arson in the first degree, burglary in the first or second degree, escape in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, rape in the first degree, robbery in any degree, sodomy in the first degree or any other felony clearly dangerous to human life, or of immediate flight therefrom, s/he causes a serious physical injury to another person; or

5. While driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance s/he causes serious bodily injury to the person of another with a motor vehicle.

Second degree assault may involve intentional or reckless serious physical injury to another person, or physical injury to any person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument. It may involve interfering with a police officer, emergency responder, or teacher, while performing their duties. When the injury suffered is less serious, it may be classified as assault of a lesser degree, such as "simple asault".

The following is an example of a state statute governing simple assault:
" Simple assault. A person is guilty of assault if s/he:

  1. Attempts to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; or
  2. Negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or
  3. Attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense unless committed in a fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent, in which case it is a petty disorderly persons offense."