Whether or not an action qualifies as assault is more complicated than deducing fault for other crimes. Many charges have straightforward processes and obvious evidence, such as blood alcohol content in a DUI case. An alleged threat against another, however, may or may not constitute assault, and the elements needed to prove assault may be more subjective.
Assault is defined in Statute 784.011 as “an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.” No physical contact is required to establish assault; however, verbal threats on their own may not be grounds for an assault charge. If you were recently charged with assault and are unsure whether the charge is justified, contact a criminal defense lawyer right away.
Proving Simple Assault in Florida
In Florida, assault is a second-degree misdemeanor offense which may lead to incarceration and fines upon conviction. To prove assault, the prosecution must show the following:
- The defendant intentionally and unlawfully threatened to commit violence against the victim (the threat could be communicated verbally, in writing, or through gestures);
- The defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threat; and
- The threat created a well-founded fear in the victim that they were about to get hurt.
When Are Verbal Threats Criminal in Nature?
To be considered criminal, a threat must involve a warning of death or harm to someone else. Such threats are made with the intent to put someone in fear of injury or death. These threats must be specific; the victim must believe the threat is credible, real, and that violence is imminent. An example of a criminal threat may be a person holding a gun and threatening to shoot a cashier in a store if they don’t comply with their orders.
A non-criminal threat may be threatening to harm others without having the ability to do so. A person at a bar, for instance, may threaten to hurt the bartender if he doesn’t serve him a drink quickly enough. If the patron is not making gestures to prepare for physical violence or does not have a weapon, a reasonable person would not take this threat seriously.
When Does a Threat Become Assault?
Assault occurs when threatening words are accompanied by actions. Although the action does not need to result in physical contact or injury (which may lead to battery charges), it does need to instill fear in a victim that violence against them is imminent. Merely threatening to punch someone is not assault until the person approaches the victim in a threatening manner and the victim reasonably fears for their safety. An example of an action that may establish assault may be threatening to punch someone while swinging a fist in the victim’s direction.
How to Challenge Assault Charges in West Palm Beach
Whether or not you’re arrested for and charged with assault will vary depending on the facts of your case. There are many instances in which threats or threatening actions made as jokes or between friends may be misconstrued as assault. To prove assault, the victim must reasonably fear for their safety, which is a challenging element to establish.
Talk to Attorney Brian Gabriel about your assault charge today. The sooner you align yourself with an experienced attorney, the better the results of your criminal case may be. When you need assault defense in West Palm Beach, you can trust The Law Firm of Gabriel & Gabriel to do everything we can to preserve your reputation and provide the best possible outcome. Call 561-622-5575 for a free consultation or complete our contact form today.