Can You go to Prison for Assault?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: September 8, 2021

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve lost our temper. But sometimes, things can get out of hand, which can cause the law to get involved. If you have knowingly inflicted or attempted to inflict serious physical injury to someone, that’s considered assault. And if you get charged with the crime of assault, things can get really bad, pretty quickly. 

If you get charged with assault and battery, is it possible that you could end up in prison? That’s exactly the topic we will explore in today’s blog post as I answer the question: can you go to prison for assault?

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • What is the difference between assault and battery?
  • Assault crimes do vary
  • When is a crime considered an assault or battery?
  • Penalties depend on the state
  • Sexual assault and battery is a different crime and classification
  • Celebrities who’ve faced assault charges

What is the difference between assault and battery?

Oftentimes we hear the words “assault and battery” together in the world of law enforcement. Depending on the state, “assault” and “battery” can actually be two different violent crimes. 

The legal distinction only exists in states that actually distinguish assault as threatened violence rather than actual violence. So, assault would be the threat of violence, while battery is the actual physical violence.

In states that define assault as placing a victim in fear or threat of violence, the victim’s response must not only be genuine but reasonable under the circumstances. The test is usually whether or not the defendant’s actions would cause a reasonable person to be in fear of an immediate physical attack. 

In other words, the victim’s response must be one that you’d expect from any reasonable person in their position.

But in most states, assault is defined as actual physical violence. So, for our purposes in this blog post, I will be talking about what can happen when someone actually inflicts violence and/or serious physical injury on a victim.

I should also mention that assault is both a crime and a tort. Which means it can result in criminal prosecution, civil liability, or both. In addition to criminal penalties, someone who commits assault can also be sued for damages.

Assault crimes do vary

The United States legal system acknowledges that assaults can vary greatly in severity, which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors come with fines and penalties, and sometimes up to one year in jail. Meanwhile, felonies will usually land you in prison.

There are also distinctions in the criminal code based on the assault victim. The charges and penalties can vary greatly if the victim is a spouse or partner because it is classified as domestic assault or domestic violence. 

If the victim is a child, that would be child endangerment or child abuse. On the flip side, assault against an elderly person would be considered elderly abuse. If the victim is a law enforcement officer, that can be classified as an assault on a police officer.

Some jurisdictions have aggravated assault or felony assault, which usually includes the use of a weapon.

When is a crime considered an assault or battery?

Simple assault or battery is the least serious form under the law, and it usually involves a minor injury or a limited threat of violence. This falls under the misdemeanor category, which means being found guilty can result in fines, anger management classes, and/or up to one year in jail.

Felony assault or battery (aka aggravated assault or battery) involves circumstances that make the crime more serious. For example, when the victim is threatened with or experiences significant violence that is worse than a slap or punch in the face.

Examples of Felony Assault or Battery (which will land you in prison) Include:

  • striking or threatening to strike a person with a weapon or dangerous object
  • shooting a person with a gun or threatening to kill someone while pointing a gun at the victim
  • assault or battery with the intent to commit another felony crime such as robbery or rape
  • assault or battery resulting in serious physical injury, including permanent disfigurement
  • assault (threat of violence) while concealing one’s identity, and
  • assault or battery against a member of a protected class, such as a police officer, healthcare provider, social services worker, or developmentally disabled or elderly person.

Penalties depend on the state

When you are charged with assault, the penalty you are facing depends on the state, as well as the nature of the crime allegedly committed. All 50 states have laws on the books when it comes to assault and/or assault and battery. They often come with prison sentences.

Yes, you can end up in prison on a first-time assault or assault/battery charge. Oftentimes, the attorney you have representing you will determine the specific charges you are facing and the deal you are offered. This can be a serious crime and should not be taken lightly. 

Sexual assault and battery is a different crime and classification

I should also point out that sexual assault and battery is not the same as assault and battery in the eyes of the law. Sexual assault is violence inflicted on someone in a sexual manner, including rape and molestation.

This kind of act is considered a sex crime, and if convicted, can put you on the sex offender registry. Sexual assault and battery is taken even more seriously in the courts compared to assault and battery, and can come with hefty prison sentences.

Celebrities who’ve faced assault charges

Many celebrities over the years have been charged with assault. Some even end up getting convicted and serving time in prison. 

Bill Cosby was serving time for three counts of aggravated indecent assault before his release due to a technicality.

Mel Gibson took a plea deal to avoid facing felony charges of battery in 2010 after he admitted to slapping ex Oksana Grigorieva.

Mike Tyson was charged with battery (1990), rape (1992), and assault (1998), among other crimes and served a few years in prison.

Chris Brown was convicted on felony domestic violence in 2009 after he assaulted then girlfriend Rihanna. He was arrested on felony assault in 2013 after allegedly attacking a man in Washington D.C.

In 1988, Mark Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder after he beat two different men, leaving one blind in one eye. He pleaded guilty to assault and served 45 days in prison.

Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst pleaded “no contest” to several crimes in 2007, including assault with a deadly weapon, battery, death threats, and reckless driving.

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger was charged with assault in 1972.

Rapper Tupac Shakur served 30 days in jail in 1993 after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a man with a baseball bat. That same year, he was also convicted of sexual battery, after a woman claimed that she was raped by Shakur and his entourage.

Does your state separate the charges of assault and battery? Let us know in the comments below.


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