How can I be charged with assault if the victim did not suffer any injuries?

Brian Fishman
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Brian M. Fishman is a Philadelphia trial attorney whose main practice area is criminal defense. He represents individuals in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties in state, federal and juvenile court. He also handles personal injury claims including car accidents, SEPTA accidents, construction site accidents, slip & fall, medical malpractice and catastrophic loss as well as civil rights violations for excessive force by police, corrections officers and other government officials and other violations of one's constitutional protections. Full Bio


How can I be charged with assault if the victim did not suffer any injuries?


Criminal law, especially when it comes to crimes of violence, is not about the resulting injuries but rather about the defendant’s intent. That is, what was your intent when you allegedly attacked, assaulted, stabbed, or shot another? I am often asked the above question and I believe two examples make this much easier to understand.

Example 1:
I pull out a gun and say, “I’m going to kill you,” and I fire three shots in your direction, none of which hit you. You run away without a scratch on your body and I am ultimately arrested. What crimes would I be charged with? Although you did not suffer any bodily injury, I would be charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, gun possession, terroristic threats, and multiple other lesser-included offenses. Other than murder, there is no more serious assault offense than attempted murder, and you can receive a maximum penalty of 40 years of incarceration.

Example 2:
We have an argument and I punch you once. In a freak incident, you fall backwards, hit your head on the concrete, and ultimately die in the hospital. What crimes would I be charged with? Although you suffered the ultimate injury—death—I would likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person. Involuntary manslaughter is defined as one causing the death of another after doing an unlawful (assault) or lawful (driving) act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner. It is graded as a misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum of 5 years of incarceration. My intent was only to cause you minor bodily injury with a punch and therefore, despite the fact that you died, the charges I would face would be much less serious.

These examples demonstrate that it is the perpetrator’s intent and not the resulting injuries that control the severity of the assault charges that will be levied against you. Assault offenses are serious charges that can result in considerable periods of incarceration.


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