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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

Criminal lawyer: Iowa assault defined

Assault is the criminal act of making a threat and making contact in Iowa. Under the common law, it was “assault and battery,” with the assault being the threat and battery making contact.

The Iowa criminal code makes “assault” broader than just hitting someone. Assault can basically be committed in three ways: First, assault can be any act intended to “cause pain or injury” which is intended to result in “physical contact” which will be insulting or offensive to another all along with the defendant’s “apparent ability to execute” the threatened act.

Second, assault can be any act “intended to place another in fear of immediate physical contact which will be painful, injurious, insulting, or offensive” all along with the defendant’s “apparent ability to execute the act.”

Third, the easiest to understand of all three ways, assault can be “intentionally point[ing] a firearm toward another, or display[ing] in a threatening manner any dangerous weapon toward another.”

There are some overly complex legal arguments that go along with an explanation of assault. A few years ago the Legislature and the Supreme Court got into a very public squabble over whether an assault is a “general” or “specific” intent crime.

Simply put, specific intent crimes are cerebral crimes and general intent crimes are nearly thoughtless but nevertheless voluntary. Juries can decide general intent crimes by the acts themselves: quacks like a duck? It's a duck. If someone does something, or, someone appears to be doing something, the jury can in one fell swoop decide they intended to do that thing. The act implies intent.

A specific intent crime is more complex and requires that the jury decide whether the defendant had an intent separate from the purported acts. For example, burglary requires the specific intent to commit an assault, felony, or theft inside a building capable of being occupied. Breaking into a building is not enough to prove burglary. That could be criminal trespass but is not necessarily burglary. You also have to prove the specific intent to do one of those three things. But assault has, traditionally and by definition, been less cerebral.

The Iowa Supreme Court said hold on—assault is really a specific intent crime that requires the actor to form the intent to actually intend to cause pain or injury or intend to place someone in fear-- not just to blindly carry out some injurious act. It’s right in the statute that this intent is required. Therefore the Supreme Court said the jury has to find the specific intent to do these things and not merely find that someone engaged in an act that might be interpreted on its face as injurious or insulting.

The Legislature fought back adding to the law that assault is, indeed, a general intent crime.

Not so fast, said the Iowa Supreme Court. Just because the Legislature says it’s a general intent crime does nothing to remove the specific intent required to commit the assault—namely, the intent to cause pain or injury or to place another in fear of immediate physical contact which will be insulting or offensive or place the victim in fear of immediate physical contact that would be painful, injurious, insulting, or offensive.

Moreover, there are different kinds of assault—like assaults on peace officers and domestic assaults that require the victim to have a certain status that must be proven in order to convict. Some assaults require injuries, like a bodily or serious injury, to be convicted, and others require the display of a dangerous weapon.

By the way, voluntary participation in legal sporting events are excluded from the definition of assault.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for assault, assault on a peace officer, domestic assault, assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, or any other kind of Iowa criminal assault, contact us for a free initial consultation.


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