Baldwin & Briscoe P.C.
301-862-4400
22335 Exploration Drive Ste. 2030
Lexington Park, MD 20653
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Criminal Assault in Maryland

  The crime of assault is one of the most common criminal charges that we see at Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C.  Assaults come in two degrees, First Degree Assault, which is a felony, and Second Degree Assault, which is a misdemeanor.  We see many more second degree assault charges than first degree assault charges.

Second Degree Assault

  There are three different types of assaults, or fact scenarios under which the state may charge a defendant with the crime of second degree assault, under Maryland law.  While there is only one crime, the state has several different ways by which it can attempt to secure a conviction.

·        Intent to Frighten – An Intent to Frighten type assault requires that the state prove three elements, and sometimes a fourth, depending on the evidence.

    1.       The state must prove that the defendant committed an act with the intent to place the victim in fear of immediate physical harm or offensive physical contact;

    2.       The state must prove that the defendant had the ability at that time, to bring about the offensive physical contact or physical harm; and

    3.       The state must prove that the victim reasonably feared immediate offensive physical contact or physical harm.

    4.    [Depending on the case] Only when the evidence suggests the possibility of self-defense, then the state must also prove that the defendant’s actions were not legally justified.

 

·        Attempted Battery – An attempted Battery assault requires the state to prove three elements:

    1.       That the Defendant actually tried to cause immediate offensive physical contact or physical harm to the victim.

    2.       That the defendant intended to bring about offensive physical contract or physical harm; and

    3.       That the defendant’s actions were not consented to by the victim and were not legally justified.

 

·        Battery – A Battery assault requires the state to prove three elements:

    1.       That the defendant caused offensive physical contact with or physical harm to the victim;

    2.       That the contact was the result of an intentional or reckless act of the defendant and was    not accidental; and

    3.       That the contact was not consented to by the victim and not legally justified.

 

First Degree Assault

  In order to prove the crime of First Degree Assault, the State must prove all of the elements of second degree assault, and must also prove that either the defendant used a firearm to commit assault; or that the defendant intended to cause serious physical injury in the commission of the assault.

 

Penalty

  The criminal penalty for a second degree assault charge is imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or a fine, not exceeding $2,500, or both. 

  The penalty for a first degree assault charge is imprisonment not exceeding twenty-five years.

 

Defenses

  There are several affirmative defenses that may be available to a defendant who is charged with assault.  An affirmative defense is a justification for the conduct.  It says to the court that “Even though I did what I’ve been charged with, I should not be found guilty of a crime because I was justified in doing it.”  The law provides several legal justifications for committing an assault.  Where an affirmative defense is raised, the state has the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defense does not apply.  This means that the state must prove that at least one of the factors, identified below, for whatever defense is raised is absent.

 

Self-Defense
Self-defense is a complete defense to the crime of assault.  The judge or jury must find the defendant not guilty if four factors are present:

             1.    The defendant was not the aggressor

             2.    The defendant actually believed that he or she was in imminent danger of bodily harm

             3.    The defendant’s belief was reasonable; and

             4.    The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend him or herself in light of the threatened or actual harm.

 

Defense of Others   
Similar to Self-defense, a person may raise the defense that he was acting to protect one or more other persons.  The defendant is not guilty if four factors are present:

             1.    The defendant actually believed that the person he or she was defending was in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm;

             2.    The defendant’s belief was reasonable;

             3.    The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary in light of the threatened or actual force; and

             4.    The defendant’s purpose in using force was to aid the person he was defending.

 

  Defense of Habitation 
A person may use deadly force to defend their home under some circumstances.  In order to have a valid defense, all five of the factors listed here must be present.

             1.    Someone entered or attempted to enter the defendant’s home;

             2.    The defendant believed that the intruder intended to commit a crime that would involve an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.            

             3.    That the defendant reasonably believed that the intruder intended to commit such a crime.

             4.    The defendant believed that the force that he or she used against the victim was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm; and

             5.    The defendant reasonably believed that such force was necessary.

 

  Defense of Property 

A person may use reasonable, non-deadly force to defend their property.  Three factors must be present for this defense to apply.

             1.    The defendant actually believed that a person was unlawfully interfering,     or was just about to unlawfully interfere with his property;

             2.    That the defendant’s belief was reasonable; and

             3.    The defendant used no more force than was reasonable necessary to defend against the victim’s interference with the property. 

 

Privileges

  In some cases, the state charges more than one person with an assault arising out of the same incident.  These cases, among others, present the possibility of securing an acquittal by means of raising a testimony privilege.  There are two types of privileges that are commonly asserted in assault cases.  It’s important to note that a privilege belongs to the witness/victim, not to the defendant.  The defendant cannot force a person to exercise their privilege, but can benefit if they choose to do so.

  Spousal Privilege:     The spouse of a person on trial for a crime may not be compelled to testify as an adverse witness in an assault case.  This privilege may only be used one time.  Therefore, if the defendant is facing a second or subsequent trial for assault and the spouse previously invoked the privilege, the court can compel them to testify in the later case.

  Fifth Amendment Privilege:         A person may not be compelled to testify in violation of his privilege against self-incrimination.  This is typically seen where two or more people are arrested for assault and each is subpoenaed to testify in the other’s cases.  The danger being that once one person testifies, whatever statements they make can be used in the trial against them.  Any person who is called to testify in a criminal case, who, by reason of their own conduct faces the possibility of criminal charges, whether or not those charges are pending, should serious consider exercising their Fifth Amendment Privilege and not testify.

 

Mitigation 

  There are some cases where the state will be able to meet its burden of proof with respect to the elements of assault.  There are other cases where there is a strong likelihood that the state will do so.  In these cases, it is often in the best interest of the defendant to enter into a negotiated plea with the state, rather than taking the case to trial.  If the defendant does not want to take the case to trial, there are two general alternatives that are commonly available to defendants.  Which options is available in any particular case depend on many factors, including the facts of the case, the prosecuting attorney and the defendant’s prior criminal record. 

 

  1.       The case may be placed on the “stet” docket

  If the state’s attorney agrees, a defendant’s case may be put on the stet or inactive docket.  Placing a case on the stet docket acts as an indefinite postponement of the case.  Placing the case on the stet docket means that the defendant does not have a conviction.  A case that has been placed on the stet docket will be eligible for expungement.  Usually a defendant must wait three years to obtain an expungement.  Sometimes a case is placed on the stet docket with conditions.  A defendant may have to make a donation, attend counseling, pay restitution, or take some other action in order for the case to remain on the stet docket.  In assault cases, a common condition of having a case put on the stet docket is that the defendant attend and successfully complete an anger management program.  In some cases, the state will require, as part of the agreement that the defendant have no contact with the victim.

 

  2.       The defendant may be offered a plea agreement

  In many cases, the defendant is not offered a stet and the case is not a good one to take to trial.  The evidence of assault may be significant and not favorable to the defendant.  This may be the case where the defendant has previously had a case put on the stet docket, or where the injuries sustained by the victim are severe. 

  In a first degree assault case, if the state is going to offer a deal, they will generally offer a plea to second degree assault.  In a second degree assault case, the plea offer will usually be to second degree assault or reckless endangerment.  Generally when a defendant takes a plea deal, there is some benefit to the defendant in doing so.  In many cases, the defendant agrees to plead to a crime that is less severe than what he may be convicted of if the case goes to trial.  In some cases, the state may only offer a plea to the more serious crime that has been charged.  Nevertheless, it may, in some circumstances be to the defendant’s benefit to accept a plea.

  When a defendant accepts a plea, the state’s attorney will read facts to the judge that the state would have offered as evidence at trial.  In some cases, the state will agree to withhold certain facts.  This is one reason why a plea may be advisable in some cases, even without a reduction in charges.  For instance, if the state agrees to state “the defendant punched the victim numerous times” rather than “the defendant punched the victim seventeen times in the face breaking the victim’s nose and knocking out three teeth”, it will greatly benefit the defendant in the case.  While this example may see a little extreme, there are many times when the defendant has done something that he does not want to have on the record as part of the plea.

  If you are facing an assault charge, you may want to consider enrolling in an anger-management class prior to going to court.  This can help in both your negotiation with the state and when your case goes before the judge. 

  The attorneys at Baldwin & Briscoe have handled many assault cases.  We are familiar with the prosecutors and judges.  If you come in for a consultation, we’re happy to discuss your case, the evidence, the defenses, and the possible and likely outcomes with you.  We may also be able to recommend steps you can take prior to trial to help get the best outcome. 

The information contained on this page is provided as general information and does not constitute legal advice.  The experienced attorneys at Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. can assist you if you are facing criminal charges.  There is no consultation fee for criminal matters.  Call today to schedule a free consultation.

 

 

The Law Offices of Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. also offers these services:

Bankruptcy and ForeclosureBusiness LawCivil LitigationCriminal DefenseEmployment, Disability, and Consumer RightsFamily LawGovernment Contracts LawIntellectual Property, Personal InjuryReal Estate, Social Security Disability & Workers’ Compensation and Wills, Trusts, & Estates

 

 

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The Law Offices of Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz, P.C.

22335 Exploration Drive

Suite 2030

Lexington Park, MD 20653

301-862-4400 Phone

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Our Attorneys

Samuel C.P. Baldwin, Jr., Esq.

Janice Briscoe, Esq.

Richard J. Steinmetz Jr., Esq.

David J. Hebb, Esq.

Sandra Kaufman Jonasen, Esq.


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With an office conveniently located in Lexington Park, The Law Offices of Baldwin, Briscoe & Stienmetz, P.C. serves clients in the counties and cities of Lexington Park, Leonardtown, Hollywood, Mechanicsville, Loveville, Helen, Breton Bay, Chaptico, Charlotte Hall, Golden Beach, Avenue, La Plata, Waldorf, Newburg, Port Tobacco, Port Charles, Solomons Island, Prince Frederick, Chesapeake Shores, Hughesville, Benedict, Nanjemoy, Lusby, Port Republic, St. Mary's County, Charles County, Calvert County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland.


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