Three Ways That Tennessee Defines Assault

Assault can be a class ‘A’ or class ‘B’ misdemeanor and carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail. Assault is sometimes called Simple Assault, to distinguish it from Aggravated Assault. Even a first offense of Simple Assault can result in jail time. If you have been charged with Assault, it is very important that you hire an attorney to help you defend your case.

What is an Assault?

Under Tennessee law, there are three types of behavior that constitute an assault: hurting someone, threatening to hurt someone, and touching someone in an extremely offensive way.

Let’s look at how the Tennessee Assault law defines assault. The Tennessee Code actually defines assault in three ways in T.C.A. 39-13-101. First, the law says that assault is intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person. Second, the law says that assault is intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing another person to reasonably fear imminent bodily harm. Third, the law says that assault is intentionally or knowingly coming into physical contact with someone in a way that a reasonable person would find extremely offensive or provocative. Let’s look at an example of each kind of assault.

The first form of assault is the type that most people probably think of when they hear the word assault. In the first kind of assault, the defining element is bodily injury. That means that in order to be guilty of the first type of assault, the defendant must have injured the victim in some way. However, the injuries can be very slight, like bruises or scratches. As a basic example, a punch in the face that leaves a bruise is an assault with bodily injury.

The second form of assault is assault by fear of bodily injury. You may be surprised to learn that under Tennessee law, an assault can happen without any physical contact whatsoever. That is because the law says that you have committed an assault if you cause another person to reasonably fear imminent bodily harm. So if your words or actions are threatening enough to make a reasonable person think that you are about to hurt them, that is an assault. The key concepts here are reasonableness and imminency. A good attorney knows to question whether the alleged victim’s fear was reasonable under the circumstances and whether bodily harm could have been caused imminently. For example, cursing at someone with a raised fist inches from their face is likely an assault, because a reasonable person would be afraid that they were about to be hit right away. Yelling at them from the other side of a locked door might be an assault or might not, depending on how quickly or easily the defendant could have breached the door.

Yelling at someone over the phone from miles away is not an assault, because the defendant cannot imminently hurt the victim, though it may constitute another crime such as harassment.

Finally, an assault may be an offensive touching. At first, “offensive touching” may sound like it’s meant to cover a sexual offense. However, sexual offenses are much more serious and are defined in their own section of the criminal code, separate from assault. Instead, offensive touching typically refers to a taunting or insulting touching, or sometimes an act of violence perpetrated without sufficient strength to cause injury. Remember the example above of a punch to the face that causes a bruise? That was an example of assault with bodily injury. Let’s consider a similar example of a slap that doesn’t leave any injuries, not even a bruise. This is an example of assault by offensive contact. The slap is extremely insulting, even without injuries, and is likely to lead to full blown fight unless the victim exercises great restraint. For exactly this reason, offensive contact is illegal, and makes up the third and final form of assault. It’s important to remember that assault by offensive contact has a lower classification than the other two forms of assault and will usually result in a lesser sentence.

To summarize, there are three forms of simple assault under Tennessee Law. In layman’s terms, the three forms are hurting someone, threatening to hurt someone, and touching someone in an insulting way. All three forms carry a possibility of jail time. If you’ve been charged with assault, call us right away  at 901-322-8711 to schedule your free consultation.