A charge of simple assault in Florida can result in major complications to one’s life and livelihood. It’s a misdemeanor charge and because there is no actual physical contact involved, we have seen the seriousness of it downplayed.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that a simple assault charge can result in up to two months of jail time, plus six months of probation and a $500 fine. Further, having this charge on your permanent criminal record could affect your future employment prospects, as you may be viewed as volatile or violent.
A conviction on this charge will be more than a minor inconvenience. It threatens not just your short-term freedom, but also your long-term future. That’s why it’s so important to have a skilled attorney fighting to protect your rights and looking out for your best interests.What is Simple Assault?
Assault is defined in F.S. 784.011 as:
- An intentional threat (by word or some act of violence) to another person AND
- The apparent ability to do so AND
- Doing some act that causes the alleged victim to reasonably fear that that such violence is about to happen.
It’s considered a second-degree misdemeanor. As such, the maximum penalties are:
- Up to 60 days in jail
- Up to 6 months of probation
- A maximum $500 fine
One could face enhanced penalties for simple assault if the alleged victim was a public servant, including a:
- Law enforcement officer;
- Emergency medical care provider.
If a victim is one of these three, the charge will be bumped from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor, which, per F.S. 775.082 carries a maximum penalty of:
- Up to 1 year in jail;
- Up to 1 year of probation;
- A maximum $1,000 fine.
The main difference between “simple assault” and “aggravated assault” is that aggravated assault requires that the defendant not only committed assault, but he or she ALSO:
- Used a deadly weapon (without intent to kill) OR;
- Had the intention to commit a felony.
In a case where simple assault is carried out against more than one person, the law allows prosecutors to file more than one charge – even when the alleged assaults were carried out as part of a single criminal episode.
For example, if you send a single letter threatening your ex-girlfriend and her family, you could be charged with multiple counts of simple assault. Another example was seen in the 2004 case of Bryan v. State, before Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal. In that matter, a defendant drove his car in the direction of two police officers who were together in one car. The appellate court ruled the lower court properly found the defendant guilty of two counts of aggravated assault (aggravated because it involved a deadly weapon) on a law enforcement officer.Proving Intent in Simple Assault Cases
It’s important to point out here that prosecutors do not need to prove the defendant in fact intended to carry out the violent act. As noted in the 2011 case of Pinkney v. State, Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal held that the state needed to show the defendant had the intention to carry out an act that was almost certain to make the alleged victim fear that violence would be imminent.
So it doesn’t matter whether you actually intended to hurt the person. Instead, what matters is whether you intended to make them fear you would hurt them.
Further, the word or act referenced in this charge needs to be both “willful and knowing.” What this means is there must be evidence the defendant knew what he or she was doing and willfully made a threatening comment or gesture. An example of an exception was seen in the 2005 case of Benitez v. State, where a man who was highly intoxicated put his hands behind his back while seated in a car. It was later determined a firearm was located in that seat. However, prosecutors failed to obtain a conviction in that case because they lacked proof that the perceived threat was a result of a willful and knowing act by defendant.Defenses to Simple Assault
Although the approach we take is going to vary for each case depending on the individual circumstances, there are some defenses specific to assault that are typically employed. These include:
- Conditional Threat. If the alleged threat of violence was conditional and not specific and indicated the mere possibility of violence at unspecified point in the future, that’s not assault. It could potentially be disorderly conduct, but it’s not assault.
- Idle Threat. If a threat is made by a defendant absent any physical action that would justify the alleged victim’s belief that defendant would actually carry out that threat, it’s not assault.
- Unreasonable Fear. If the alleged victim’s fear of “imminent violence” was not reasonable or justified or alleged victim didn’t actually believe defendant would do harm, then the alleged act was not assault, as defined by law.
- If you are arrested for simple assault in South Florida, our experienced legal team can help you determine the best defense approach, given the unique details of your case.
If you have been charged with a violent crime in South Florida, contact the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011.