The Difference Between Assault vs. Domestic Violence in Maryland

Assault and domestic violence are two separate legal concepts that are often associated with each other. While each term has a distinct legal definition independent of the other, the two often come up in the same cases together.

To begin exploring and disentangling assault and domestic violence, it is necessary to define each term. While legal and cultural definitions will never match up precisely (especially with laws being different from state to state), each of these concepts can be defined in terms that are fairly simple and self-explanatory.

Defining Assault and Domestic Violence

  • Assault: This is a physical attack that constitutes a deliberate effort to do physical harm to another person.
  • Domestic Violence: This is violent, threatening, or aggressive behavior that occurs within the home, most often perpetrated between spouses or partners.

With these simplified definitions in place, one can begin to see the differences between the terms as well as how they relate to one another. Not every assault constitutes domestic violence, and not all domestic violence involves assault. However, there is nonetheless a significant overlap between the two in both scholarship and practice, as any prosecutor, judge, or criminal defense attorney can attest to.
Assault vs. Domestic Violence Charges in Maryland

Assault charges in Maryland can take on several different forms, with first-degree felony assault being the most serious. Even a second-degree misdemeanor assault conviction can result in prison time and fines over $1,000 if sentencing is particularly harsh. The specific charges and penalties for an assault conviction will vary greatly depending on the circumstances of the crime, the evidence available, and the quality of the defendant’s legal counsel.

Charges and sentencing for domestic violence are not clearly defined. There is not actually a crime in the Maryland Criminal Code that is called “domestic violence.” Instead, that term should be considered as a category or classification that other criminal charges might fall under. There is likewise no special crime defined for an assault that meets the definition of domestic violence—all assaults are simply first- or second-degree assaults in Maryland, regardless of the relationship between the perpetrator and victim. Furthermore, domestic violence often involves completely different crimes in addition to, or in place of, assault charges, such as stalking, harassment, or child abuse. The sentencing for each of these crimes will be different and influenced by the particular circumstances of each unique case.

There is an extensive list of crimes that might potentially be defined as domestic violence. The defining factor is not so much the nature of the crime as the relationship between the perpetrator and victim. Any violent crime that occurs between spouses, live-in partners, or a parent and child can be considered domestic violence. The courts in Maryland and other states take such matters extremely seriously, especially when children or other vulnerable victims are at risk.

While the authorities will label such cases as “domestic,” this does not actually change the nature of any criminal charges that occur. The charges, sentencing, and available defense strategies will all remain fairly comparable for an assault that occurs between co-workers and an assault that occurs in the home and meets the definition of domestic violence.

FAQs About The Difference Between Assault vs. Domestic Violence in Maryland

What counts as assault in Maryland?

Under the Maryland Criminal Code, two types of assault are defined. When someone causes (or attempts to cause) great bodily harm to another person, this is considered first-degree assault. This could be defined by:

  • The likelihood of death
  • A permanent disfigurement
  • A severe acute injury
  • A resulting disability

Assaults involving firearms or strangulation are also automatically first-degree assaults. A second-degree assault is defined by offensive physical contact rather than actual bodily harm. This could be shoving or striking someone in a way that is threatening and aggressive but does no lasting harm. First-degree assault is a felony charge, whereas second-degree assault (sometimes called common or simple assault) is usually a misdemeanor unless perpetrated against a police officer or first responder.

Is domestic violence a felony or misdemeanor in Maryland?

Because “domestic violence” is a descriptive category and not an actual crime in and of itself, the answer to this question will depend on the specific charges being faced. To make matters even more confusing, some crimes relevant to domestic violence cases, such as assault, can have both misdemeanor and felony-level charges. Generally speaking, cases of serious domestic violence can be prosecuted at the felony level.

What is simple assault in Maryland?

When someone uses the term “simple assault” or “common assault” in Maryland, the official name of the crime typically being referenced is assault in the second degree. Second-degree assault is a misdemeanor-level charge (unless perpetrated on a police officer, EMT, or any other first responder) that can result in prison time and up to $2,500 in fines.

What does domestic assault mean?

“Domestic assault” is a term that refers to any assault that falls under the definition of domestic violence. One spouse assaulting another in their home, for example, would be a domestic assault. Certain forms of physical child abuse could also be categorized as domestic assaults. “Domestic assault” is not a legally defined term under Maryland law, so the actual charges would be assault in either the first or second degree.

The Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, PA: Columbia, MD Domestic Assault Attorney

Domestic violence charges can quickly tarnish your reputation, home life, and standing in the community. Furthermore, they threaten your freedom and livelihood with serious prison sentences and fines. If you find yourself caught up in assault charges stemming from a domestic dispute, it will be in your best interests to retain the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately.

The legal team at the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, PA, is standing by to put the full breadth of their legal expertise to work for you. We have intimate knowledge of the local court systems and understand how important it is to deal with sensitive criminal charges as quickly and effectively as possible. Contact our offices today for a no-obligation, no-judgment consultation.

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