Assault laws in Minnesota are an important piece of our criminal justice system. And Minnesota is not alone. In fact, the oldest known criminal laws (written over 4,000 years ago!) included punishments for what we now call assault. Being familiar with these laws and how they work is essential for anyone facing these charges. This guide looks at how Minnesota law defines the term, what the different degrees of charges mean, and common sentences.
Under Minnesota law, the term is defined a little bit differently than most people understand the word. Minn. Stat. § 609.02 Subd. 10 defines assault as “an act done with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm” OR “the intentional infliction of or attempt to inflict bodily harm upon another.” In plain language, an assault in Minnesota is defined as intentionally hurting someone, attempting to intentionally hurt someone, or intentionally doing something to cause someone fear that you’re going to hurt them.
From this definition, a few important keys pop out. First, you don’t need to hurt someone to be charged with a crime! I wrote more about this here. Second, the accused person must have intended to assault the other person. It is not generally a crime to accidentally hurt someone (but there are exceptions to this!) Third, for a “fear of harm” assault, the threat must be of immediate bodily harm. Threats of future harm probably don’t apply. And finally, there is the concept of bodily harm itself. This is a topic worthy of its own post, but for now I’ll touch on it throughout the remainder of this post.
Degrees of Assault in Minnesota
Minnesota law categorizes assault into five different degrees. The most serious is first degree and fifth degree is usually the least serious.
- Fifth Degree Assault: This charge is usually the least serious, at least for individuals with no prior assault record. It is Minnesota’s “simple” assault statute, and covers situations where one person inflicts, attempts to inflict, or causes fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death. Here, bodily harm means “physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition”. In plain language, it means to hurt someone in the most basic sense. Fifth Degree Assault is usually a misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,000. However, for people with prior assault convictions, even a “simple” Fifth Degree Assault can be enhanced to be a gross misdemeanor or even a felony, with significantly higher penalties.
- Fourth Degree Assault: This statute covers assaults committed against certain individuals. It applies to police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, vulnerable adults, and more. This statute is complex and has many nuances, but the general rule is that an assault committed against one of these individuals is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of $3,000. In many circumstances, if the assault causes demonstrable bodily harm the penalty is increased to a felony, punishable by up to 2 to 3 years in prison.
- Third Degree Assault: This level of charge is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000. It applies to individuals who assault young children, have a history of mistreating children under the age of 18, or who inflict “substantial bodily harm” on their victim. The term “substantial bodily harm” includes injuries such as temporary disfigurement or loss of bodily function as well as broken bones or other “bodily members”.
- Second Degree Assault: Second degree assault involves the use of a weapon during an assault. It is a felony with a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison and/or a fine of $14,000. If the assault causes substantial bodily harm, that sentence is increased to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. In some situations, this charge can result in a prison sentence even for someone with no prior criminal record.
- First Degree Assault: The most serious level of assault charge in Minnesota law. It addresses assaults resulting in “great bodily harm”, which is defined as injury which creates serious permanent disfigurement, permanent impairment of bodily functions, or a high probability of death. It also applies to individuals who use weapons or other deadly force against police officers, judges, prosecuting attorneys, or correctional employees. This serious charge can include significant prison sentences, including mandatory 25-year prison sentences in some cases.
Penalties and Sentencing
Like any offense, penalties and sentencing can vary greatly between cases, depending on a lot of different factors. For lower-level cases, jail time is uncommon but certainly not out of the question. In more serious offenses, lengthy prison sentences can be mandatory. Those lucky enough to escape lengthy jail or prison sentences will likely experience lengthy probationary periods. Probation conditions often include counseling, anger management, or chemical abuse treatment. Fines of varying amounts will apply to virtually all convictions.
Additional penalties often include restitution requirements, which may include paying medical bills for anyone injured. Convictions can also have serious impacts on a person’s right to vote, possess or purchase a firearm, or for those seeking housing, professional licensure, or even education.
Defending an assault case in Minnesota requires a thorough understanding of these statutes. It also requires knowledge of common defenses such as self-defense, mistaken identity, or lack of intent. These crimes almost always happen under chaotic circumstances. A skilled attorney can often use that chaos to cast doubt on what occurred. Their trained eye might also find overlooked evidence that is helpful to the client. To find out how I can help with your case, please contact me today for a free consultation.