top of page
  • Writer's pictureCamille Wagner

Charged with Simple Assault: What can I expect?

Simple Assault is a common charge in DC. Here is what you should know and expect!


The Statute

Whoever unlawfully assaults, or threatens another in a menacing manner, shall be fined not more $1,000 or be imprisoned not more than 180 days, or both. D.C. Code § 22–404.

Two Types

Regardless of whether this is domestic violence related or not, there are two theories of simple assault the government can seek to prove at trial: Attempted Battery Assault or Intent to Frighten Assault.

Attempted Battery Assault

The elements the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are that:

  1. Defendant, with force or violence, injured [or attempted or tried to injure] [name of complainant] [another person];

  2. Defendant intended to use force or violence against [name of complainant] [another person];

  3. At the time, Defendant had the apparent ability to injure [name of complainant] [a person]; and

  4. That Defendant’s conduct was not justified.

Intent to Frighten Assault

The elements the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are that:

  1. Defendant committed a threatening act that reasonably would create in another person a fear of immediate injury;

    1. The government must prove a threatening act; mere words are not sufficient. The government does not need to prove that the defendant intended to injure the complainant.

  2. Defendant intended to cause injury to or to create fear in [name of complainant] [another person];

  3. At the time, Defendant had the apparent ability to injure [name of complainant] [a person]; and

  4. That Defendant’s conduct was not justified.

What is Injury and Ability to Injure?

Injury means any physical injury, however small, including an offensive touching to a person of reasonable sensibility. To prove that the defendant had the apparent present ability to injure the complainant, the government does not need to prove the complainant actually experienced fear of injury. It is sufficient for the government to prove that the defendant’s action would have created, in a person of reasonable sensibility, a fear of immediate bodily harm.

What is Justified Conduct?

The most common justified conduct is the theory of self-defense. Self-defense is considered an "affirmative defense" which means you have the burden of proving self-defense before the government rebuts that theory. To prevail on a self-defense theory, the defendant must show that reasonable force was used in self-defense. For example, if the complaining witness is unarmed and punched you, it is not reasonable to shoot them. That would be unjustified self-defense. On the other hand, if the complainant punched you and you punch back, that would constitute reasonable self-defense.

Another common justified conduct is reasonable parental discipline. The parent of a minor child is justified in using a reasonable amount of force upon the child for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare, including the prevention or punishment of his/her misconduct. Thus, the parent may punish the child for wrongdoing and not be guilty of assault (1) if the punishment is inflicted out of a genuine effort to correct the child, and (2) if the punishment inflicted is not excessive in view of all the circumstances, including the child’s age, health, mental and emotional development, alleged misconduct on this and earlier occasions, the kind of punishment used, the nature and location of the injuries inflicted, and any other evidence that you deem relevant. Here, you are not required to prove that your conduct was a justifiable exercise of reasonable parental discipline. Rather, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your conduct was not justified.

Examples of Other Defense Theories in Simple Assault Cases

Self-defense, parental discipline, and other justified conduct may not be applicable in your case. That does not necessarily mean you will be found guilty. Remember, it is the government that has to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. If they cannot prove one or more element beyond a reasonable doubt, then you cannot be found guilty.

A defense to assault can revolve around identity. The complaining witness may have the wrong person or there may be holes in the government's evidence regarding who committed the crime. A common example is when a 911 caller gives out a description of the assailant and the description given does not match you completely. Another way to attack identity is through the theory of an alibi.

Another defense to assault is lack of intent. The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to cause injury to / to create fear in / to use force or violence against the complainant. Through cross examination and presentation of evidence, your defense attorney can create doubt regarding your intent - or lack thereof.

Simple Assault Enhanced into Felony Assault

Remember, simple assault is a misdemeanor in DC. However, you can be charged with felony assault under certain circumstances. Here are the most common felony assaults in DC:

  1. Assault with Significant Bodily Injury

  2. Assault with Intent to Rob

  3. Assault with a Dangerous Weapon

  4. Assault with Intent to Kill

  5. Aggravated Assault while Armed

  6. Assault with Intent to Kill while Armed

What do I do if I am Facing Assault Charges?

Whether you are charged with the misdemeanor offense of simple assault or with felony assault, your liberty is at stake. Contacting and hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is important.

At Wagner PLLC, our experienced attorneys are ready to defend you. Don't wait! Contact us now - we are a call or text away!


If you are interested in a specific topic, add a comment and we will make a post about it.

58 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Consequences of an Unlawful Entry charge in D.C.

Charged with Unlawful Entry? Here is what you need to know. The consequences of an unlawful entry charge in Washington, D.C. can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the severity of the of

bottom of page