Assault With a Dangerous Weapon

Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (ADW) is a felony and a conviction has the potential to result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Elements of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon

A defendant will be convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon if the Commonwealth proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she:

  1. Attempted to commit an assault and battery (an unconsented touching) with a dangerous weapon; or
  2. Attempted to put the alleged victim in fear of an assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and took some action that the alleged victim reasonably believed constituted an imminent threat of an assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

A dangerous weapon is any object that is capable of causing death or serious injury. An ordinarily innocent object becomes a dangerous weapon if the defendant intentionally uses it in a dangerous manner. For example, a sharp pencil is a dangerous weapon when it is thrown at someone's eyes and a lit cigarette is a dangerous weapon if it is used to intentionally burn someone. Almost any object can transform into a dangerous weapon.

Common Defense Strategies

ADW cases are defended under the following theories.

  • Accident - The prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed an assault with a dangerous weapon intentionally. When a defendant accidentally places someone in fear of being struck with a dangerous weapon, he or she cannot be convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon. What constitutes an accident? It is an unexpected, sudden occurrence that the defendant did not intend to cause.
  • Self-Defense - All of us are permitted to defend ourselves with a reasonable amount of physical force in certain situations. If the defendant: (1) reasonably believed his or her personal safety was in immediate danger as the result of a physical attack; (2) took all reasonable steps to avoid a physical altercation before using force; and (3) used the least amount of force necessary to defend himself or herself, then the defendant cannot be found not guilty of ADW. A similar defense of another person privilege is also available in certain situations.
  • Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record - When the defense investigation reveals that the alleged victim has been previously convicted of a crime or involved in violent conduct, Attorney Spring will make every effort to share this information with the jurors. The jury will typically hear about witnesses' criminal convictions if they occurred within the last five years (for misdemeanors) or ten years (for felonies). If the alleged victim was previously accused of violent behavior, Attorney Spring will ask the judge to allow him to explore these "prior bad acts" during cross-examination.  
  • Bias - When a defendant is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, the complaining witness is usually upset with the defendant. The complaining witness wants the case to result in a guilty finding and wants the defendant to be sentenced by the court. Attorney Spring will highlight the complaining witness' hope for a conviction and punishment during cross-examination.

ADW in the Marriage - It is not unusual for defendants to be charged with ADW following marital disputes. In Massachusetts, the prosecution is not permitted to compel a witness to testify against his or her spouse. If the named victim is married to the defendant and chooses not testify, the Commonwealth must dismiss the case unless there is independent evidence that can establish the defendant's guilt.

If the complaining witness is not married to the defendant but still does not want to testify, the prosecutor will sometimes consider the the complaining witness' opinion. Attorney Spring will attempt to convince prosecutors to dismiss the case, but most of the time the Commonwealth will still prosecute the defendant and, in some cases, will force the complaining witness to testify against his or her will.

A Fifth Amendment Privilege exists where the complaining witness would incriminate himself or herself by testifying truthfully at trial. For example, if the complaining witness lied to the police about the case or hit the defendant during a fight, that witness would have a privilege to refuse to testify. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution says no witness can be compelled to offer testimony that would constitute an admission to a crime.

A conviction for the felony charge of assault with a dangerous weapon can have catastrophic consequences. Attorney Spring has litigated these cases for his entire career and is in an ideal position to defend you in court. 
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