The crime of assault, in Maine, is defined as intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing offensive physical contact or bodily injury to another person. Simple assault is a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to a $2,000.00 fine. It carries a minimum mandatory fine of $300.00, which may not be suspended. The crime is not considered a felony, because the maximum period of incarceration is less than 1 year. Although assault might involve bodily injury brought about intentionally, it might merely involve some type of physical contact that is offensive, brought about recklessly. Even “bodily injury” isn’t quite what it seems at first blush, because the term is defined to include not only actual injury (as the term “injury” is commonly understood) but also “physical pain,” which might be entirely momentary or transient. The crime, which probably sounds to an ordinary person as if it involves setting out to intentionally harm someone, might in fact be committed by recklessly causing a person some type of physical contact that is objectively offensive.
This is typical of criminal statutes. To illustrate, let’s create the definition of a crime that we will label “battery.” “Battery” sounds bad, as if it must involve battering something, which in turn sounds as if it involves smashing. We will begin defining our crime by choosing our required culpable states of mind– the crime may be committed intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence. Under Maine law, an act is committed intentionally if it is the person’s conscious object both to commit the act and to achieve the prohibited result. An act is committed knowingly if the person knows it is practically certain that he or she is committing it and he or she is also practically certain the act will bring about the prohibited result. A person acts recklessly if the person consciously disregards the risk that he or she is committing the act and consciously disregards the risk that the act will bring about the prohibited result. A person acts with criminal negligence when the person fails to be aware of the risk that he or she is committing the act, and fails to be aware of the risk that the act will bring about the prohibited result, and the failure to be aware is a gross deviation from what a reasonable, prudent person would realize.
Now that we have our culpable mental states, we will define the prohibited act and prohibited result. To commit our crime labeled “battery,” a person must intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence, kill, maim, mutilate or touch another person or an article of clothing worn by another person without the other person’s express permission. To understand how our crime of “battery” will be prosecuted, go straight to the least serious required state of mind and the least serious required conduct/result. The crime will be proven if the State can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) a defendant failed to be aware that his or her conduct would result in the touching of another person or an article of clothing worn by another person; (2) the conduct resulted in the touching of another person or the clothing worn by another person, without that person’s express permission; and (3) the defendant’s failure to be aware of the risk that his or her conduct would cause this result was a gross deviation from what a reasonable and prudent person would have realized. All the rest is window dressing. Because it is impossible to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly kill, maim or mutilate another person without at least bringing about a criminally negligent touching of that other person or an article of his or her clothing, nobody who prosecutes the charge will ever be saddled with a burden greater than proof of criminally negligent touching.
And so it is with assault. While a person might commit assault by intentionally setting out to injure another person, a person might just as well commit the crime of assault by consciously disregarding the risk that he or she is doing something that will result in offensive physical contact to another person. Depending on circumstances, the crime of assault might be committed by bumping, pushing or a shoving another person. The law essentially says: “Hands off… No contact.” No intent to cause harm is required and no actual harm is required, beyond the bringing about of offensive physical contact. The crime can be committed in ways more benign than its title suggests. The lesson is, when push comes to shove, don’t do it. But if you do, and if you find yourself charged with assault because of it, don’t try to undo the damage by yourself. You need counsel.
This post does not deal with forms of assault that involve special circumstances, such as assaults of a domestic violence nature, assaults that cause bodily injury to those under age 6 (a Class C crime), aggravated assault (Class B) or elevated aggravated assault (Class A). This post does not contain legal advice and the reader does not have an attorney-client relationship with the author by virtue of having read it. The content is for informational purposes only.