Simple Assault in Georgia: Is Physical Contact or Specific Intent Required??

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simple assault

Simple Assault in Georgia: Is Physical Contact or Specific Intent Required?

Under Georgia law, simple assault is categorized as a “Crime Against the Person.” It is a category of offenses that can be easily misunderstood. Many people who don’t have in-depth knowledge of the law may think that in order for a person to be charged and/or convicted with a “crime against the person” such as simple assault that physical contact is required to have been made with the alleged victim. However, let’s be clear, you can be charged and convicted of simple assault without having touched a hair on a person’s “chinny-chin-chin!” Noooooo, you think. “Yesssssss,” we confirm. How? You ask.

Here’s How: Simple Assault in Georgia

Because in the state of Georgia, the elements of simple assault are satisfied once an act of violence is committed or threatened. Under Georgia law, O.C.G.A. § 16-5-20, a person commits the offense of simple assault when he or she either: (1) Attempts to commit a violent injury to the person of another; or, (2) Commits an act which places another in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury. Further, a person who commits the offense of simple assault shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Thus, the offense of simple assault can be committed if a person simply makes a violent gesture towards another person and that person “reasonably” believes he or she will be harmed. An example would be if a person balls up his fists, takes a boxer’s stance and pulls one of his arms back as if he is preparing to throw a punch. If the alleged victim believed that he or she was in danger of being attacked, then a simple assault has been committed. The question then becomes: Can the accused be charged and convicted of simple assault when he intended to commit the act but not to actually hit or harm the victim?

The Georgia Supreme Court has addressed the issue of the intent requirement for a simple assault offense. “[A]ll that is required is that the assailant intend to commit the act which in fact places another in reasonable apprehension of injury, not a specific intent to cause such apprehension,” Smith v. State, 280 Ga. 490, 492 (1) (629 SE2d 816) (2006). In Stoddard v. State, 272 Ga. 608, 611-612 (3) (533 SE2d 379) (2000), the Court stated, “There is an intent of the accused that must be shown, but it is only the criminal intent to commit the acts which caused the victim to be reasonably apprehensive of receiving a violent injury, not any underlying intent of the accused in assaulting the victim.” Therefore, in short, the answer is no. Just as physical contact is not required to satisfy the elements of a simple assault charge, nor is specific intent.

Georgia Case Law & Simple Assault

In Patterson v. State, 299 Ga. 491 (2016), the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Ricky Patterson’s conviction of aggravated assault with a weapon. It is important to note as the Court did in this case that aggravated assault has two elements: (1) commission of a simple assault and (2) the presence of one of three statutory aggravators. The statutory aggravators are: (1) intent to rape, rob, or murder; (2) use of a deadly weapon or an offensive weapon likely to or actually resulting in serious bodily injury; and (3) shooting towards people from a vehicle without justification. See O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21.

The question posed to the Court in this case (as to the aggravated assault with a weapon charge) was whether the trial court erred in concluding that the crime of simple assault does not require that the defendant have the specific intent to cause the alleged victim of the assault to suffer injury or the apprehension of injury.

Patterson lived in a mobile home with his girlfriend, Wanda Bartley. In the presence of Bartley’s adult son, Nathaniel Silvers, Patterson and Bartley engaged in an argument. Bartley and Silvers urged Patterson to leave the home and he did. However, outside of the home, Patterson went to his vehicle, put it into gear, revved the engine, and rapidly drove directly toward the end of the home, near Silvers. Silvers became pinned against the side of the home by the vehicle and suffered internal injuries.

Patterson was indicted, tried by a Whitfield County jury, and convicted of aggravated assault for having driven a motor vehicle toward Silvers, causing Silvers to apprehend being injured. The aggravated assault of which Patterson was convicted was predicated upon simple assault by placing another in reasonable apprehension of an imminent and violent injury. At trial, Patterson did not deny that he had driven the van carelessly, but the evidence that he meant to hurt Silvers or even to frighten him was disputed. Patterson conceded that he might be guilty of reckless conduct or reckless driving, but unless the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to inflict an injury or cause Silvers to apprehend injury, Patterson urged that he could not properly be guilty of aggravated assault.

Both the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Patterson’s aggravated assault with a weapon conviction.

Possible Defense(s) Against a Simple Assault Charge                                                                 

If you have been charged with simple assault or any crime for that matter, it is imperative that you consult an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately—one that will fight vigorously to get your case dismissed or the charges against you reduced. Here, at Bixon Law, we will evaluate the facts and circumstances of your case to build the best defense.

In many simple assault cases, the best possible defense is to prove that you acted in self-defense. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, in which, the accused admits to committing the offense but only because he or she feared for their own safety and used reasonable force to defend himself/herself. In other instances, a plea bargain may be negotiated in your favor.

Contact Bixon Law Today

If you or a loved one has been charged with simple assault or any other type of crime considered a “Crime Against the Person,” call Bixon Law. We represent clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. Our lawyers are committed to helping people in difficult situations and working to get our clients the best possible outcome. We invite you to call us at 404-551-5684 for a free consultation today.