Minnesota’s Assault – Fear Statute

I’ve spoken with a lot of people over the years who were shocked to find themselves charged with assault when they felt that they hadn’t done anything of the sort.  Did you know that you can be charged with assault in Minnesota without ever hurting anybody?  Or even touching them?  Or even trying to hurt or touch them?  It’s true.  Minnesota law includes two different definitions of assault, and one of them is much different than most people think of when they hear the word.  Here’s the definition, straight from Minnesota Statute:

“Assault” is:

(1) an act done with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or

(2) the intentional infliction of or attempt to inflict bodily harm upon another.

The second one is what people generally think of when they heard the word “assault.”  But the first one is something different altogether.  Essentially, it is against the law in Minnesota to intentionally do something that would cause someone to think you’re going to hurt them.  Often, this looks something like shaking your fist at someone while saying something unpleasant to them in the middle of an argument.  This often comes up in situations that were almost, but not quite, a fight.  Things like road rage incidents, arguments between intoxicated bar patrons, and the like, often trigger this sort of charge. 

There are a couple of common ways to defend against this sort of charge.  Where the charges stem from a mutual argument, a good attorney may be able to craft a self-defense type argument.  This would basically be an argument to the jury that yes, the client did try to scare this person off, but only to avoid a physical confrontation. 

Second, notice that the definition includes the words “with intent to.”  A crime is only committed under this definition if the actor intends to cause the other person fear of harm or death.  If they were actually intending something else, then no crime has occurred.  Again, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to look at the circumstances of a case and put together a solid defense by attacking the intent requirement of the statute. 

A third possibility is to use the First Amendment as a defense strategy.  Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, and charges of this type very often involve something that was said.  If a given assault charge relies upon things that were said, it may be possible to frame that action as free speech, which is generally very difficult for the government to criminalize.

Ultimately, every case is different.  The examples above are just a few of the creative ways an experienced criminal defense attorney can help a person faced with assault charges.

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