AskDefine | Define assault

Dictionary Definition



1 close fighting during the culmination of a military attack
2 a threatened or attempted physical attack by someone who appears to be able to cause bodily harm if not stopped
3 thoroughbred that won the triple crown in 1946
4 the crime of forcing a woman to submit to sexual intercourse against her will [syn: rape, violation, ravishment]


1 attack someone physically or emotionally; "The mugger assaulted the woman"; "Nightmares assailed him regularly" [syn: assail, set on, attack]
2 force (someone) to have sex against their will; "The woman was raped on her way home at night" [syn: rape, ravish, violate, dishonor, dishonour, outrage]
3 attack in speech or writing; "The editors of the left-leaning paper attacked the new House Speaker" [syn: attack, round, assail, lash out, snipe]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /əˈsɔːlt/, /@"sO:lt/


  1. A violent onset or attack with physical means, as blows, weapons, etc.; an onslaught; the rush or charge of an attacking force; onset; as, to make assault upon a man, a house, or a town.
  2. A violent onset or attack with moral weapons, as words, arguments, appeals, and the like; as, to make an assault on the prerogatives of a prince, or on the constitution of a government.
  3. An apparently violent attempt, or willful offer with force or violence, to do hurt to another; an attempt or offer to beat another, accompanied by a degree of violence, but without touching his person, as by lifting the fist, or a cane, in a threatening manner, or by striking at him, and missing him. If the blow aimed takes effect, it is a battery.
  4. An intentional threat, show of force or movement that causes a reasonable fear, or an actual physical contact.
  5. A non-competitive combat between two fencers



  1. To attack, threaten or harass

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

For the tortious aspects of assault, see Assault (tort).
Assault is a crime of violence against another person. In some jurisdictions, including Australia and New Zealand, assault refers to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, while in other jurisdictions, such as the United States, assault refers only to the threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force. Simple assaults that do not involve any aggravation such as use of a deadly weapon are distinguished from aggravated assaults in some jurisdictions.
Assault is often defined to include not only violence, but any physical contact with another person without their consent. In common law jurisdictions, including England and Wales and the USA, battery is the crime that represents the unlawful physical contact, though this distinction does not exist in all jurisdictions. Exceptions exist to cover unsolicited physical contact which amount to normal social behavior (for example, patting someone on the back): see (in England and Wales) Collins v. Wilcox [1984] 3 All ER 374.
In most jurisdictions, the intention to cause grievous bodily harm (or its equivalent) may amount to the mental requirement to prefer a charge of murder in circumstances where the harm inflicted upon the victim proves fatal. In England and Wales, this fact was criticised by Lord Edmund-Davies in Cunningham [1982] AC 566.

American jurisprudence

American common law has defined assault as an attempt to commit a battery.
Assault is typically treated as a misdemeanor and not as a felony (unless it involves a law enforcement officer). The more serious crime of aggravated assault is treated as a felony.
Four elements were required at common law:
  1. The apparent, present ability to carry out;
  2. An unlawful attempt;
  3. To commit a violent injury;
  4. Upon another.
Simple assault can be distinguished without the intent of injury upon another person. Simple assault can consist simply of the violation of one's personal space or touching in a way the victim deemed inappropriate. (i.e. one's personal space consists of arm's reach.)
As the criminal law evolved, element one was weakened in most jurisdictions so that a reasonable fear of bodily injury would suffice. These four elements were eventually codified in most states.
Modern American statutes define assault as:
  1. an attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another; or,
  2. negligently causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.
Some states also define assault as an attempt to menace (or actual menacing) by placing another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
States vary whether it is possible to commit an "attempted assault" since it can be considered a double inchoate offense.
In some states, consent is a complete defense to assault. In other jurisdictions, mutual consent is an incomplete defense, with the result that the misdemeanor is treated as a petty misdemeanor.
Furthermore, the crime of assault generally requires that both the perpetrator and the victim of an assault are human. Thus, there is no assault if an ox gores a man. However, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 treats the fetus as a separate person for the purposes of assault and other violent crimes, under certain limited circumstances. See H.R. 1997 / P.L. 108-212
Some possible examples of defenses, mitigating circumstances, or failures of proof are:
  • A defendant could argue that since he was drunk, he could not form the specific intent to commit assault. This defense would most likely fail since only involuntary intoxication is accepted as a defense in most American jurisdictions.
  • A defendant could also argue that he was engaged in mutually consensual behavior.

Aggravated assault

Aggravated assault is, in some jurisdictions, a stronger form of assault, usually using a deadly weapon. A person has committed an aggravated assault when that person:
  • attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another person; or
  • causes such injury purposely, knowingly, or recklessly in circumstances where the person has exhibited indifference to human life; or
  • attempts or causes bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon.
Aggravated assault is usually differentiated from simple assault by the offender's intent (i.e., to murder, to rape etc.), the extent of the injury to the victim, or the use of a deadly weapon, although legal definitions vary between jurisdictions. Sentences for aggravated assault are generally more severe, reflecting the greater degree of harm or malice intended by the perpetrator.

General defenses to assaults

Although the range and precise application of defenses varies between jurisdictions, the following represents a list of the defenses that may apply to all levels of assault:


Consent may be a complete or partial defense to assault. In some jurisdictions, most notably England, it is not a defense where the degree of injury is severe, as long as there is no legally recognised good reason for the assault.. This can have important consequences when dealing with issues such as consensual sadomasochistic sexual activity, the most notable case being the Operation Spanner case. Legally recognised good reasons for consent include; surgery, activities within the rules of a game (Burnes), bodily adornment (R v Wilson), or horseplay (Jones and others). However, any activity outside the rules of the game is not legally recognised as a defence of consent.

Arrest and other official acts

Police officers and court officials have a general power to use force for the purpose of effecting an arrest or generally carrying out their official duties. Thus, a court officer taking possession of goods under a court order may use force if reasonably necessary. However in Scottish Law, consent is not a defense for assault.


In some jurisdictions, caning and other forms of corporal punishment are a part of the culture. Evidently, if it is a state-administered punishment, e.g. as in Singapore, the officers who physically administer the punishment have immunity. Some states also permit the use of less severe punishment for children in school and at home by parents. In English law, s58 Children Act 2004, limits the availability of the lawful correction defense to common assault under s39 Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Prevention of crime

This may or may not involve self defense in that, using a reasonable degree of force to prevent another from committing a crime could involve preventing an assault, but it could be preventing a crime not involving the use of personal violence.

Defense of property

Some states allow force to be used in defense of property, to prevent damage either in its own right, or under one or both of the preceding classes of defense in that a threat or attempt to damage property might be considered a crime (in English law, under s5 Criminal Damage Act 1971 it may be argued that the defendant has a lawful excuse to damaging property during the defense and a defense under s3 Criminal Law Act 1967) subject to the need to deter vigilantes and excessive self-help.

Assault in England and Wales

In England and Wales, an assault consists of a person intentionally or recklessly causing another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.
Causing a person to apprehend violence can be committed by way of action or words: R v. Ireland [1998] AC 147. Of course, words can also mean that otherwise threatening actions are rendered not capable of being an assault, as in the celebrated case of Tuberville v. Savage (1669 1 Mod 3, T). In that case, the Defendant told the Complainant (while putting his hand on his sword) that he would not stab him, because the circuit judge was visiting town for the local assizes. On that basis, the Complainant was deemed to have known that he was not about to be injured, and no assault was held to have been committed.
The "immediacy" required has been the subject of some debate. The leading case, again, is R v. Ireland [1998] AC 147. The House of Lords held that the making of silent telephone calls could amount to an assault, if it caused the victim to believe that physical violence might be used against him in the immediate future. One example of "immediacy" adopted by the House in that case was that a man who said, "I will be at your door in a minute or two," might (in the circumstances where those words amounted to a threat) be guilty of an assault.
Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that common assault, like battery, is triable only in the magistrates court in England and Wales (unless it is linked to a more serious offense which is triable in the Crown Court). Additionally, if a Defendant has been charged on an indictment with assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH), or racially/religiously aggravated assault, then a jury in the Crown Court may acquit the Defendant of the more serious offense, but still convict of common assault if it finds common assault has been committed.
Because common assault is a summary-only offense, its maximum penalty is six months' imprisonment, or a "level 5 fine" (currently up to £5,000). The "starting sentence" for a first time offender pleading guilty is normally a community penalty.

Variations of assault in England and Wales

English law makes distinctions based on the degree of injury, between:
Furthermore, English law also provides for the offense of grievous bodily harm (GBH). GBH may be committed by way of an assault, though an assault is not a necessary ingredient of either inflicting grievous bodily harm pursuant to s20 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 or causing grievous bodily harm with intent pursuant to s 18 of the same Act (R v. Ireland [1998] AC 147, per Lord Steyn at p. 160).

Racially/religiously aggravated assault

If an assault is prosecuted as being racially or religiously aggravated, then it is triable either way (in the Crown Court or magistrates court). The maximum penalty in this case is up to two years' imprisonment, or a fine of up to the statutory maximum.

Assault with intent to resist arrest

The offender may intend to resist either his own or someone else's arrest. This offense is also triable either way, and punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.

Assault upon a constable in the execution of his duty

This offense is triable only in the magistrates court, so the maximum sentence is twelve months' imprisonment. The "starting sentence," however, is a short custodial sentence, and it is considered a more serious offense than common assault.
The constable (normally a police officer) must be acting "in the execution of his duty" for this offense to be made out. If he exceeds the remit of his duty (e.g. acts unlawfully in assaulting the Defendant), the offense will not be made out.
The Defendant does not actually have to be aware that the person he is assaulting is a constable (Forbes (1865) 10 Cox CC 362).

External links

Canadian Law and Self Defence: Truscott: This unique study of how the Criminal Code of Canada relates to self defence is supported by reference to over 60 actual court cases.
assault in German: Misshandlung
assault in Dutch: Mishandeling
assault in Simple English: Assault
assault in Finnish: Pahoinpitely
assault in Swedish: Misshandel

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abuse, aggravated assault, aggression, ambush, amphibious attack, armed assault, assail, assailing, assailment, attack, banzai attack, barbarize, batter, battering, battery, bear, bear upon, beat up, beating, berating, beset, bitter words, blackening, blitz, blitzkrieg, boost, breakthrough, bruise, brutalize, buck, bull, bulldoze, bump, bump against, bunt, burn, bushwhack, butcher, butchery, butt, butt against, carry on, censure, charge, citation, come at, come down on, contumely, counterattack, counteroffensive, coup de main, crack down on, cram, crippling attack, crowd, dead set at, descend on, descend upon, descent on, destroy, diatribe, dig, disorderliness, diversion, diversionary attack, drive, elbow, execration, fall on, fall upon, flank attack, force, forcible seizure, frontal attack, gang up on, gas attack, go at, go for, go on, goad, hammer, hard words, harm, harry, have at, head-on attack, hit, hit like lightning, hold-up, hurtle, hustle, implication, impugnment, incrimination, inculpation, incursion, infiltration, invasion, invective, involvement, jab, jam, jawing, jeremiad, jog, joggle, jolt, jostle, jump, killing, land on, lay at, lay hands on, lay into, lay waste, laying waste, light into, lightning attack, lightning war, loot, looting, mass attack, massacre, maul, megadeath, molest, molestation, mug, mugging, nudge, obstreperousness, offense, offensive, onset, onslaught, overkill, panzer warfare, philippic, pile drive, pillage, pillaging, pitch into, poke, pounce upon, pound, press, prod, punch, push, rage, raid, ram, ram down, ramp, rampage, rant, rape, rating, rattle, rave, revilement, riot, rioting, roar, ruin, run, run against, run at, rush, sack, sacking, sail into, sally, savage, screed, set on, set upon, shake, shock tactics, shoulder, shove, slaughter, smite, sortie, sow chaos, sowing with salt, storm, stress, strike, surprise, swoop down on, take the offensive, tamp, tear, tear around, terrorize, thrust, tirade, tongue-lashing, unprovoked assault, unruliness, vandalize, vilification, violate, violation, vituperation, wade into, wreck
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