Understanding Maryland’s assault laws

Many states use assault charges for threatening behavior and battery charges for actual physical harm. However, Maryland does things a bit differently, incorporating both actions under various charges of assault.

That makes assault a more serious charge in Maryland than it might be in some other states. Keep these things in mind:

1. Common assault, also known as second-degree assault, involves either threats of offensive contact or actual offensive contact, but it doesn’t involve serious physical harm.

“Offensive contact” is defined by what a reasonable person would find offensive. For example, an open-handed slap across the face would constitute assault.

The penalty for second-degree assault can range all the way up to 10 years in prison in $5,000 in fines.

2. First-degree assault involves either actual serious physical injury or the threat of it. Serious physical harm is generally anything that puts the other person at risk of death, disfigurement, or causes them to lose function of a body part for any length of time.

The difference between the two sometimes comes down to chance. For example, if you’re in a fight with someone an you kick that person in the ribs, causing a bruise that will heal after a week or so, that’s second-degree assault. If you accidentally kick your opponent in the kidney, damaging it, that would be first-degree assault.

The penalty for first-degree assault is up to 25 years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

3. Self-defense is a common response to an assault charge, but you have to show that you were under the reasonable belief that you would have suffered serious harm unless you acted the way that you did and that you had no reasonably safe way to retreat.

Although some states have so-called “stand your ground” laws that do not require someone to retreat from a threat, Maryland is not one of them. In Maryland, you’re expected to avoid a fight whenever possible.

4. Defense of others is another common response to an assault charge. It usually arises when someone steps in to stop someone else from being the victim of a crime. Since it is very similar to self-defense, it’s also judged by asking if there was a reasonable fear of harm.

If you’re charged with assault, consider contacting an attorney as quickly as possible to help with your case.

Source: FindLaw, “Maryland Assault Laws,” accessed March 21, 2017

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