Assault is a serious crime and carries a possible jail sentence upon conviction.Elements of Assault
In order to convict a defendant of assault, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant attempted to commit an assault and battery (defined as an unconsented touching); or
- The defendant attempted to place the alleged victim in fear of an assault and battery and engaged in some conduct which the alleged victim reasonably perceived as imminently threatening an assault and battery.
Assault cases are usually defended in one of several ways.
- Accident - The Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing the defendant intentionally assaulted the alleged victim – it’s not enough if the defendant accidentally placed the alleged victim in fear of being the victim of an assault and battery. An "accident" is a sudden event that is unexpected and was not intended by the defendant.
- Self-Defense - A defendant is legally allowed to use a reasonable degree force in self-defense. If the defendant: (1) reasonably thought he or she was in the process of being attacked or an attack was imminent and his or her safety was in immediate danger; (2) made all reasonable efforts to avoid a physical fight before using force; and (3) did not use more force than was necessary under the circumstances; then the defendant must be acquitted of assault. Defense of another person is a similar privilege.
- Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record - If the complaining witness has a violent past or a criminal record, Attorney Spring will ask the judge to allow him to share this information with the jury. The general rule is that criminal convictions of alleged victims can be shared with the jury if they are recent (misdemeanor convictions within the last five years are usually admissible; felony convictions within the last 10 years are usually admissible). If the victim has previously acted in a violent manner (also called “prior bad act” evidence), such evidence is typically admissible if the defendant is arguing self-defense. Attorney Spring has years' worth of experience in litigating issues related to prior bad acts.
- Bias - In the majority of assault cases, there are bad feelings between the defendant and the complaining witness. The complaining witness typically wants the case to result in a conviction and punishment for the defendant. The complaining witness' interest in a conviction will be fully explored during cross-examination.
Assault in the Marriage - Assault cases often result from fights between people who are married. In Massachusetts, the prosecutor cannot force any potential witness to offer testimony against his or her spouse. If the complaining witness is married to the defendant and decides not to cooperate with the prosecution, the prosecutor will often times have to dismiss the case.
Even when the complaining witness and the defendant are not married, the alleged victim’s feelings regarding the outcome of the case will be a factor to be considered by the prosecutor. If the alleged victim does not want to testify against the defendant, Attorney Spring will aggressively attempt to convince the assistant district attorney that the case should not be prosecuted.
Some complaining witnesses can decline to testify because they possess a Fifth Amendment Privilege. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that a person cannot be compelled to testify under oath if that person's honest testimony would constitute an admission of his or her own guilt of a crime. For example, in a case where the complaining witness pushed the defendant during a fight or where the complaining witness lied to the police about the case, the complaining witness can refuse to testify pursuant to the Fifth Amendment.
An assault conviction can result in very serious consequences, and it is essential that your attorney has experience in defending and trying assault cases. Attorney Spring has defended and tried these cases in courts across the Commonwealth for his entire career.