Memphis Assault Attorney

The right to be left alone is an extension of the widely-recognized right to privacy. This reasonable expectation includes not only not having others accost you physically, it goes even further: you can commit the crime of assault even if you don’t touch another person.

What’s an assault?

Assault is a common crime in Memphis; regardless of the city’s charm in other areas, socially speaking enough people find themselves being accused of injuring others, or issuing threats of violence that are credible enough that Memphis ranks highly (or poorly, if you think about it in a different way) in assault charges being filed against its residents.

Fundamentally, assault, defined in Tennessee Penal Code 39-13-102, is an intent-based violent crime. Meaning, you cannot accidentally or unknowingly commit assault. There are several different kinds of assault that the local, county or state police can charge you with, and in the following paragraphs we’ll examine each of them.

Simple assault

What you might call simple or “ordinary” assault typically means one of three things:

  • You intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily harm to another person. Purposefully, knowingly or recklessly harming another by physical contact is what some other states refer to as “criminal battery,” but in Tennessee this crime is a subspecies of assault. Tennessee instead uses the term “battery” to describe sexual battery. Also, do not confuse recklessly causing bodily harm with reckless endangerment, which is a separate crime that we will look at later. Example: you get involved in a “road rage” incident with another driver, punch him in the mouth and knock out some teeth (intentional or knowing behavior), or you push someone aside while going down a staircase and that person falls as a result and is hurt (recklessness).
  • You intentionally or knowingly put that person in reasonable apprehension that bodily harm will happen. This is perhaps the classic definition of assault. It’s signature features are that you do not need to make any physical contact, and it requires a double inquiry not only into your state of mind at the time, but also that of the alleged victim: was he or she being “reasonable” in his or her fear? Example: The same road rage incident above, but instead of punching the other driver you lunge at him while making a fist.
  • You intentionally or knowingly make physical contact with another, and the contact was such that to a reasonable person it would be extremely offensive or provocative. This offense has elements of both of the others above: physical contact takes place, even though it does not cause bodily harm; and whether that contact rises to the level of a criminal violation depends once more on whether the victim’s sense of violation from it is reasonable. Example: you decide as a prank to touch others on their private parts while standing or sitting next to them on public transportation (most people would find this highly offensive if not provocative, even if you meant no physical harm by it).

Simple assault is a Class A misdemeanor (less than a year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 or both), except for its offensive contact variation which is a Class B misdemeanor (less than six months in jail, a fine of up to $500 or both). An exception to this rule is if the victim of the assault is a law enforcement officer, in which case the fine can be as much as $5,000.

Reckless endangerment

Recklessness can be described as behavior that a person engages in without caring about whether it could lead to harm, and harm either results or – in the case of reckless endangerment – that behavior puts someone else in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. Like some types of simple assault, no actual harm needs to take place. But while reckless endangerment does not require the offending conduct to be intentional or knowing, at the same time the risk of harm must be more than just bodily injury: the risk must be of great bodily harm or even death.

Reckless endangerment, Tennessee penal code 39-13-103, can take many forms. Drunk driving while another person is a passenger with you is a common type of this crime; others are less common, such as cutting down a tree that falls onto someone else’s home while he’s inside, or jumping off of a bridge while carrying a child in your arms.

In Tennessee, reckless endangerment is a Class A misdemeanor unless you engage in it with a deadly weapon, in which case it becomes a Class E felony (one to six years in a state prison and a possible fine of up to $3,000).

Aggravated assault

Think of aggravated assault as simple assault “on steroids.” This crime can take the following forms under Tennessee law:

  • An intentional, knowing or reckless assault that causes serious bodily injury or involves the use or display of a deadly weapon. This is a Class C felony (three to fifteen years in state prison and a possible $10,000 fine), except for cases involving recklessness which are a Class D felony (two to twelve years in state prison and a possible $5,000 fine).
  • An intentional assault with intent to cause injury to a public employee (including public or private transportation workers) in the performance of his or her duties that in fact causes injury. This is a class A misdemeanor.
  • An intentional or knowing assault that either causes or attempts to cause injury to a person while being in violation of a restraining order, probation agreement, or court-ordered diversion sentence. This is a Class C felony.
  • Intentionally or knowingly failing or refusing to protect a child under parental or custodial care, or an adult in custodial care, against an aggravated assault involving serious bodily harm or the use or display of a weapon, or against aggravated child abuse. This is a Class C felony.

Similar to simple assault, some of these types of aggravated assault committed against a law enforcement officer carry a stiffer possible fine of up to $15,000.

Domestic assault

Domestic assault is simple assault with a “domestic abuse victim,” defined under Tennessee law as:

  • Adults or minors who are current or former spouses, or who are living together with the offender or who have been engaged in dating or sexual relationships with him (excluding workplace-related or other “fraternization” situations).
  • Family members (related by blood or adoption).
  • Former in-laws.
  • Children (including adult children) of people described above.

The penalties for domestic assault are the same as for simple assault (Class A or B misdemeanor), with the addition of an additional fine of up to $200.

What legal defenses are available against an assault charge?

Your Memphis defense attorney will perform your criminal defense against a charge of assault in the same general way as with any other violence-related charge. This will involve seeing whether the validity of the facts alleged by the prosecution can be challenged, examining the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, finding witnesses who can help you to establish an alibi, making sure that the prosecution has not made any technical errors in establishing all of the necessary elements of the charge, and – as importantly – attempting to defeat the required “intent,” “knowing” or “reckless” mental state requirements.

Your attorney’s role in zealously representing your side against the state is to persuade. In this sense, a painstaking pretrial investigation can help you in at least two ways. First, if the prosecution can be persuaded that it cannot with certainty prove to a jury the case against you to a “beyond reasonable doubt” standard, this can either lead to the charges being negotiated down or even dropped. Or, if the charge goes to trial, the pretrial work will form the foundation of your legal defense strategy to persuade at least one member of the jury that reasonable doubt does in fact exist about the prosecution’s case.

A public defense attorney appointed by the court to represent you may mean well, but these attorneys are frequently overburdened with heavy caseloads and cannot always give your representation the dedication it needs to make sure that your side of the story will be effectively heard. With your personal liberty, your finances, your reputation and your future in society at stake, seeking an attorney or law firm that is dedicated to defending criminal cases and experienced with all aspects of being on your side in and out of the courtroom can be the decisive difference to you in both the short and long terms.

Contact an Experienced Memphis Assault Lawyer 

With your life in stress, don’t try to represent yourself, and don’t entrust a public defender or an attorney whose practice doesn’t include a strong emphasis in criminal defense. Having the best available criminal defense law firm on your side really can make all the difference in the world for you when you are accused of assault. Contact the Hamilton Law Firm today.