Sometimes situations get out of hand. Everyone has a point at which they snap and stop being aware of how much energy or emotion they are experiencing, especially in dangerous situations. Many of these cases are personal interactions gone terribly wrong or circumstances where you felt you were being attacked by overwhelming forces. When a person goes into an instinctual state of fear or anger, they can lose control of themselves and often don’t even fully recall the incident after recovering from the fit. However, nothing is more sobering than hearing that you have been charged with assault in the first degree.
But what exactly does that mean? Most people have seen enough cop shows and action movies to know that this charge is serious, has to do with physical violence, and probably comes with hefty consequences. However, few non-lawyers are actually familiar with the definition of first-degree assault or even if they are actually guilty of the crime. Today, we’re here to help you by clarifying what you have been charged with, the precise details that qualify the charge, and how serious a conviction would be.
Assault in the First Degree
Assault is a very loosely defined term in the legal system covering an entire category of crime ranging from casual hooliganism to violent murder. You can be charged with assault in five different degrees and as always, the first is the most serious. Assault in the fifth degree is almost always a misdemeanor and can be charged for as little a shouting and waving your arms is a frightening manner.
Assault in the first degree, however, requires a person to have infliction what is legally known as “Great Bodily Harm”. The differentiation between levels of harm are in place to prevent over-charging in emotional but not actually brutal cases. Great bodily harm requires a person to have permanently affected their target through violence.
You can also be charged with assault in the first degree if deadly force is used against someone who is authorized to enforce the law. This includes participants in your court case. If either criterion is met, proven, and accepted by the jury, then you can be convicted of first-degree assault.
Great Bodily Harm
In Minnesota and across the country, the seriousness of a crime is often determined by how much harm it caused to those involved or nearby. This is measured in a scale of bodily harm with each segment defined by a label and legal criteria to keep the system objective and fair. For bodily harm, this is arrayed into “bodily harm”, “substantial bodily harm” and “great bodily harm”.
The minimal qualification of bodily harm is “physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition”. This means that, technically, if you run into someone and they bruise their shoulder on a nearby wall, this would likely be fourth-degree assault.
Substantial bodily harm is a little more complex. To qualify, an injury must be temporary, but during its duration may cause disfigurement, loss or impairment of an appendage or internal organ, or include a bone fracture. In other words, a serious injury that will heal.
Great bodily harm is what lies beyond that. This charge relied primarily on the permanence of an injury and the fact that the victim will never be able to physically move on from the experience. Any permanent loss of an appendage or disfigurement that will never heal are great bodily harm, as are permanent internal injuries or a loss of the senses. Blinding or deafening someone, even with minimal violence, is also considered great bodily harm.
Use of Deadly Force Against Law Enforcement
The other way to be charged with assault in the first degree is to use deadly force against someone enforcing the law, processing your court case, or contributing to your legal confinement. People often feel trapped and panic when they are surrounded by law enforcement after a troubled experience. The image most people draw, and a problem that does exist, are dangerous people who fire at the police officers that come to arrest them. However, shoot-outs with the cops are not the entirety of situations where people attack those involved in the legal system.
A surprising number of people snap further through the process and have been known to attack attorneys, judges, and even uninvolved clerics in the courthouse. It’s also common for prison guards and correctional employees to be attacked.
Lashing out or fighting against being confined is not enough to qualify for assault in the first degree. Many people thrash or even clock a police officer in the process of being arrested or transported. But for a first-degree felony, you must have used what is known as ‘deadly force’. This draws a clear line between simple resistance unknowingly dangerous activity.
The first requirement is that a person takes action that could have resulted in death. The second requirement is that the person be aware that their action could have resulted in death and/or has the intent to kill with the actions they are taking. Any use of a firearm can reasonably be considered deadly force, as does use of non-weapon items in a deadly fashion.
Taking an action that can be reasonably understood to be lethal also qualifies as deadly force. This prevents defenses claiming ignorance that, say, pushing a refrigerator on someone might kill them. A person does not have to die to qualify for deadly force, merely that the action had reasonable potential and/or intent to kill.
Consequences of Assault in the First Degree
If you are convicted of this crime, the courts are not going to be lenient. First-degree assault is considered incredibly serious and the exact kind of activity the court wants to strongly discourage by making examples. The maximum sentencing for causing great bodily harm to anyone is 20 years or two full decades of your life in prison and as much as $30,000 in fines. However, if you are found to have used deadly force against law enforcement, there is a minimum imprisonment period of 10 years and no chance of parole, probation, discharge, work release, or supervised release for the full imprisonment term.
Being charged with assault in the first degree is a very serious situation. If this has happened to you or someone you care about, you will need to find an experienced assault defense lawyer who knows the ins and outs of the Minnesota courts. For more information about what the law has to say on assault or to talk to an attorney near you, contact us today!
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