There is more than one way to skin a cat, or so they say, and when it comes to Oklahoma's assault laws, there are virtually endless ways to criminally threaten or injure another person.
Typically, when someone thinks of a criminal assault, they imagine an unprovoked physical attack. However, countless people in Oklahoma have found out the hard way that a person can be charged with assault for much less.
In order to understand the state's assault laws, it is important to realize that 'assault' and 'battery,' although frequently charged in concert, are actually two separate offenses:
- 'An assault is any willful and unlawful attempt or offer with force or violence to do a corporal hurt to another' (21 O.S. § 641).
- 'A battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another' (21 O.S § 642).
Battery is unwanted offensive or injurious physical contact, whereas assault is merely the threat of such contact accompanied by the apparent power to carry through on the threat. These definitions mean that a person can be charged with assault without actually coming into physical contact with the victim. If a person cocks his fist, gets in someone's face, and threatens to punch the victim, he or she could be charged with assault. If the person actually carries through on the threat and hits the victim, he or she would likely be charged with assault and battery.
Typically, both assault and assault and battery are charged as misdemeanors. Simple assault is punishable by a maximum of 30 days in county jail and/or a fine of up to $500. Assault and battery carries a maximum jail term of 90 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
The statute that outlines the penalties for assault and battery, 21 O.S. § 644, also defines and penalizes several types of domestic violence that are considered to be more serious than typical assault, and therefore, carry harsher penalties. These offenses include:
- Domestic assault and battery
- Domestic assault with a dangerous weapon
- Domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon
- Domestic abuse of a pregnant woman
- Domestic abuse of a pregnant woman resulting in miscarriage
- Domestic abuse resulting in great bodily injury
Simple assault and battery and domestic violence are perhaps the most frequently charged assault crimes in Oklahoma. However, they are far from the only types of assault prohibited under Oklahoma law. In fact, the state's Assault and Battery laws, codified in Chapter 20 of the Oklahoma criminal code, are comprised of 25 separate statutes. These are simply the assault statutes alone, and do not even include violent crimes such as shooting with intent to kill, poisoning with intent to kill, murder and attempted murder, and various gun crimes and weapons violations. Serious assault charges listed in Chapter 20 include:
- Assault and battery with a dangerous weapon
- Aggravated assault and battery
- Assault and battery upon a police officer or law enforcement officer
- Aggravated assault and battery of law officers
- Assault and battery of emergency responders
- Assault and battery of certain specified individuals, including referees, umpires, teachers or school employees, jurors or court officers, and more
While the assault without aggravating or enhancing factors carries a maximum sentence of about a month in jail, certain characteristics of an assault-related violent crime can have a defendant facing life in prison. Often, prosecutors will charge a person with the most serious offense possible, and a skilled defense attorney can successfully negotiate a reduced charge or even a dismissal of unwarranted criminal charges following an alleged altercation.