Generally speaking, crimes can be placed into one of three broad categories: crimes against the person, crimes against property, and crimes against society. The first of these, crimes against the person, refers to a variety of criminal offenses that involve the use of force or the threat of the use of force against another person. Certain offenses, such as robbery, can involve both an offense against a person (the threat or use of force) and his or her property (taking another’s property). Crimes against the person are generally considered the most serious type of crime and are legal consequences imposed for a conviction are accordingly severe. The potential penalties that are associated with these types of crimes include probation, fines, restitution, and significant jail time, as well as others.
Fortunately for people who are accused of violent crimes, there are often many defenses that can be raised that may mitigate the severity of an offense or may invalidate the prosecution’s case entirely. Some of these include self-defense, justification, alibi, consent, or involuntary intoxication. The particular defense that may be available in a given criminal case will depend entirely on the specific facts of the underlying incident. Even in cases in which a legal defense is unavailable, it may be possible for a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer to arrange a plea bargain in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for being convicted of a less serious offense that the one allegedly committed.
As a criminal matter, assault occurs when a person threatens to harm another person with an apparent ability to carry out the harm threatened. Importantly, assault is both a civil and a criminal wrong, meaning that a victim can bring a lawsuit against a person because of an assault in addition to the state proceeding with a criminal action.
Many people confuse assault and battery or automatically associate the two with one another. In reality, the two are completely different offenses. Assault occurs when one individual threatens another person with immediate offensive contact or bodily harm. It is important to note that no contact or physical harm must actually occur for an assault case to be brought. The legal elements of assault are as follows:
- An act
- Intended to create a reasonable apprehension of fear
- Of imminent harm
- With the apparent ability to commit the harm threatened
Importantly, no actual harm is necessary for the crime of assault to take place. For example, it would be sufficient to establish assault if a person pointed a gun at another person in a threatening manner, even if the person doing the pointing had no intention of pulling the trigger.
On the other hand, the crime of battery does actually require that a physical harm takes place. Often, an battery takes place in conjunction with an assault, because many battery victims have an immediate apprehension that a physical harm is about to take place. Similarly to assault, the crime of battery has a civil corollary, meaning that a battery victim can often sue his or her attacker for damages in addition to any criminal case the state chooses to pursue. While the definition of battery varies from state to state, it generally involves the following:
- An unwanted physical contact made by an individual
- The individual causing the contact was aware that the contact would be unwanted
While the term battery may make many people think of a violent encounter, in reality battery may be as simple as a hand on the shoulder, provided that the contact was offensive in the context in which it occurred.
Though every state has different specific elements of sexual assault, the offense generally refers to a touching of a sexual nature that is unwanted, unauthorized, or offensive. Sexual assault can range from groping to sexual intercourse and, in many states, the crime of “rape” is now termed sexual assault. The laws in many states now set out sexual assault charges between all types of parties, including parties of the same sex, married couples, two minors, and more.
The main issue in proving sexual assault charges usually involves whether or not the encounter was involuntary. This can often be a difficult element to prove, especially if the two parties were acquaintances (i.e. date rape) or if one or both of the parties were intoxicated. Sexual assault trials often involve “he said, she said” testimony.
One of the primary legal defenses to sexual assault is that the alleged victim consented to the sexual encounter. Proving consent, however, can be extremely complicated and difficult. This is especially true if alcohol or other intoxicating substances were involved in the encounter. Every person who is facing allegations of sexual assault should carefully explore their legal options, especially since the consequences for this type of offense can be severe. Individuals convicted of sexual assault often face time in prison, sex offender registry, and more.
Criminal homicide is undoubtedly the most serious crime against the person that can be committed, and the legal consequences associated with a homicide conviction reflect this fact. In certain cases, Importantly, homicide is not always a crime. For example, when a person kills another person while acting in self-defense there is no criminal culpability, and killings that take place within a state-sanctioned armed conflict generally are not considered crimes. There are many potential criminal offenses that may be associated with homicide. Some of the most common include:
- Involuntary manslaughter – Generally speaking, involuntary manslaughter involves a homicide that was unintentional but involved recklessness, negligence, or criminal conduct on the part of the actor.
- Voluntary manslaughter – This offense occurs when a homicide was committed voluntarily, but occurred in the heat of the moment.
- Second degree murder – Second degree murder involves a homicide which is not premeditated and does not occur in the heat of passion, but rather with “malice aforethought.”
- First degree murder – An intentional homicide that involved premeditation and malice aforethought.
The definitions above are general, and the laws defining criminal homicide will vary state to state.