What’s the Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Assault in DC?

by | Jun 6, 2019 | USAO

In the District of Columbia, there are multiple assault offenses that you can be charged with. Two of the most common are misdemeanor simple assault and felony assault with significant bodily injury. There are many differences between the two crimes including the added element of significant bodily injury to felony assault. The maximum penalties are also different and whether the defendant is entitled to a jury trial is different. However, some similarities exist. For example, the United States Attorney’s Office prosecutes both offenses and the same defenses are available to each offense.

What are the Maximum Penalties for Felony and Misdemeanor Assault?

The main difference between the two are the potential maximum penalties and the requirement for felony assault to cause a “significant bodily injury.” Simple assault is a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000.00 fine. Assault with significant bodily injury carries a maximum penalty of up to three years in prison and a maximum $3,000.00 fine.

Who Prosecutes Assault Cases?

Both felony and misdemeanor assault are prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. An assault is basically just an unwanted touching of another person. Whether someone gets charged with a felony ultimately turns on the question of whether the complaining witness suffered a “significant bodily injury.” In many cases, the police may arrest someone or obtain an arrest warrant for the felony charge and the prosecutors ultimately make the decision to charge only a misdemeanor.

Who Decides whether to Charge as a Felony or Misdemeanor?

However, whether or not to paper the case as a misdemeanor or felony can ultimately lead to some uneven and inexplicable decisions. For example, we have seen cases where the complainant suffered a broken nose and the individual was charged with felony assault. On the other hand, we have seen a case where the complainant had both front teeth knocked out and the prosecutors only charged the defendant with misdemeanor simple assault.

Is Diversion Available for Assault?

It makes a further difference considering the prosecutions diversion policies. In a typical simple assault case, the government may offer the defendant something called a “Deferred Sentencing Agreement” where the defendant pleads guilty, they defer sentencing for six months, and if the defendant completes 48 hours of community service and does not get rearrested, the government will not oppose a motion to withdraw the guilty plea and ultimately dismiss the case at sentencing. The prosecutors will not typically offer diversion in cases where the defendant is charged with felony assault.

Is Assault Jury Demandable?

Another major difference is a simple assault case is a misdemeanor in DC that is not jury demandable. That means if the case goes to trial, a judge and a judge alone will decide if the defendant is guilty. In felony assault, like all felony cases in the District of Columbia, the defendant is entitled to a jury trial. In that scenario, a jury of 12 strangers from the DC community will decide whether the government proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt to determine whether the defendant is guilty.

What Defenses Are Available for Assault?

Many of the defenses remain the same whether the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. For example, self-defense, defense of others, and mistake or accident are all available defenses for either charge. Self-defense turns, however, on whether the person subjectively feared that they were in imminent danger. In addition, the force used to protect oneself must be reasonable. Therefore, in a case where the complainant suffers significant bodily injury, usually that will involve greater force used. In those cases, to have a strong case for self-defense, the facts and circumstances must show that the defendant’s subjective fear was reasonable and that the use of that kind of force was reasonable under those circumstances. The same goes for mistake or accident. If the complainant suffers significant bodily injury, then the facts and circumstances must show that the defendant harmed the complainant by mistake or accident.

If you or a friend or family member have been arrested or are under investigation for simple assault, contact Scrofano Law PC today for a full case evaluation by an experienced criminal defense lawyer. If an officer has contacted you because there is a warrant for your arrest, contact us immediately to help you arrange a self-surrender to avoid spending a night in jail.

Joshep S.

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