Information from Hensley Law Firm about assault charges in North Carolina, including the law, potential consequences, and legal issues.
Assault in the legal sense is more broadly defined than the normal context in which it is used in every day language. Legally, assault refers to an unlawful or unwanted touching of another person, or an action that puts a person in imminent fear of harm, even if no physical contact has occurred. Something as simple as a light slap can be considered an assault if the person did not authorize or allow the contact. A show of violence, even without any intention of physical contact, if it caused apprehension or fear to the victim, is also assault.
Most "basic" assaults are classified as Simple Assault - a Class 2 misdemeanor - but certain factors can increase the seriousness of the offense. Assault on a Sports Official is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and Assault by Pointing a Gun, Assault Inflicting Serious Injury, Assault on Female, Assault on a Firefighter/EMS/Government Official, and Assault on School Personnel are all Class A1 misdemeanors, some of which have the potential to become felony charges.
Because the severity of assault charges varies, so does the realm of potential consequences associated with them. In the early 1990's, the North Carolina legislature adopted Structured Sentencing, described in the Citizen's Guide to Structured Sentencing as "the method of sentencing and punishing criminals in North Carolina. It classifies offenders on the basis of the severity of their crime and on the extent and gravity of their prior criminal record. Based on these two factors, structured sentencing provides judges with sentencing options for the type and length of sentences which may be imposed." Structured sentencing does not apply to implied-consent offenses and certain drug trafficking offenses. Because of the case-by-case approach that structured sentencing employs, the consequences for assault charges range from fines to significant jail or prison time.
Conviction of assault charges will also carry a stigma throughout a person's life. Unlike simple property or drug crimes, assault charges directly involve the well-being of other people, a fact which is not easily overlooked when assessing a person's background and criminal record.
Assault charges, by their nature, usually involve two or more people fighting, generally with one person defending themselves against the other. Even if you are protecting yourself in a fight, you may have committed an assault on the other person. However, if you were truly protecting yourself, you likely have a solid defense to an assault charge.
A good portion of assault charges are citizen-initiated, where the victim goes to the magistrate to swear out a warrant. There are many times when the line is blurred between who was the victim and who was the assailant. Many assault cases go to trial simply to determine whether the person charged as the assailant was simply rightfully defending himself.
Additionally, unless a law enforcement officer observed the entire fight, the victim must be present in court to present evidence of the assault. If the victim is not present, the prosecution cannot prove its case.
Why Hire an Attorney?
It is important to have a trained, experienced attorney analyze your case to determine if you have a valid self-defense claim or other form of defense to the charge. Because many of these cases are either mediated or tried before a judge, the guidance of an attorney through the process will be invaluable. If the victim is not present in court, the prosecutor may ask for additional time to secure the witness, and a knowledgeable attorney will know when and how to object to such requests from the prosecution such that the prosecutor will dismiss the case.
Have questions about NC assault charges? I am always happy to give free consultations and speak with you about your situation to assess your options.
Hensley Law Firm provides criminal defense representation in:
Mars Hill, Marshall, Hot Springs, and surrounding areas (Madison County)
Asheville, Weaverville, Leicester, Black Mountain, Swannanoa, and surrounding areas (Buncombe County)
Burnsville and surrounding areas (Yancey County)