How Long Can You Go To Jail for Assault?

Updated December 15, 2023
16 min read
How Long Can You Go To Jail for Assault?


Assault convictions are subject to the laws of the state where you committed the offense. Additional factors will influence your case. An assault conviction is discussed in this article and the different penalties you can use to determine how many years in prison for assault you might have to serve.

What Does It Mean To Assault Someone?

Assault can be described as inflicting physical harm on another person or the intention to do that. It can refer to intentionally causing physical pain to a person, such as punching them. At the same time, even picking up your fist and pointing it at another person in a threatening manner can be considered an assault.

The definition of assault may differ slightly from one jurisdiction to another. Though it is commonly believed that assault requires physical injury, it isn’t so. A more accurate word to describe inflicting purposeful physical pain on another person would be battery. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines assault as “a violent physical or verbal attack” or “a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical pain or bodily harm on a person (…) that puts the person in immediate danger of or in apprehension (…) of such harm or contact”. 

Assault is made up of several factors. One of the factors that are absolutely vital for it to be an assault is the offender’s intention. If you end up accidentally stabbing your partner while cooking dinner, you will not be charged with assault. That is, of course, if your partner confirms that they have no reason to believe you would ever intentionally cause them any physical pain. 

Another very important factor in the question of assault is the victim’s fear. In order for it to be assault, the victim has to experience genuine fear. If what constitutes the assault is verbal threats, the victim has to wholeheartedly believe that the offender is capable of carrying out their plans and actually be frightened by that.

Forms of Assault Charges

Assault: Physical or offensive contact

One state’s definition of assault is an act of violence or intentional force against someone, like striking the victim with an object. In other states, any offensive touching counts as assault, regardless of how subtle. A few states combine assault and battery together under the definition of bodily harm, while other states treat them as two separate crimes. “Attempted assault” is defined as an attempt to harm a victim physically but fails to do so. A swing at someone but missing is an example of attempted assault.

Assault: Attempts or threats of physical contact or harm

Other states define assault as threatening actions that make a person feel as if impending violence will occur and not actual physical contact. If the attempt is successful, the crime is usually battery in these states. An attempted assault is not a crime under this approach because the assault itself is an attempt.

Verbal threats

The use of verbal threats is usually not considered an assault under this second method. Usually, some action must be taken, such as raising a fist or moving menacingly toward the victim. It would be considered assault if you were walking toward someone with a raised fist while threatening to hurt him.

A victim’s fear

A victim’s response must not only be genuine but also reasonable under the circumstances. A reasonable person would be in fear of an immediate physical attack by the defendant’s actions. The victim must react in a way you would reasonably expect from someone in their position.

Differences Between Simple and Aggravated Assault

A simple assault usually involves only minor injuries or limited threats of violence. Aggravated assault takes place when circumstances make the offense more serious, including when a weapon is involved or the victim experiences much more violence than may be expected from a simple slap or punch to the face.

Levels of harm

Depending on your state, simple assault might be distinguished from aggravated assault or misdemeanor assault from felony assault. If you threaten or cause bodily harm or moderate bodily harm, you might be charged with simple assault. When a crime results in a significant risk of death or serious bodily injury, it is considered an aggravating offense.

A person who is physically harmed may suffer pain or injury, whether or not it is visible. Moderate or serious harm can be a more serious injury that requires stitches, significant bruising or swelling, a sprain, or a broken bone. Life-threatening injuries or permanent, serious injuries, such as a limp or loss of function, tend to be considered great bodily harm.

Assault with a deadly weapon

When an assailant possesses a weapon and threatens to use it or uses it while committing assault, they may face criminal charges of aggravated assault. Some states treat assault with a deadly weapon as a separate crime, distinct from aggravated assault.

A deadly weapon is one that can cause significant bodily harm or death. Both guns and large knives are dangerous weapons by definition because they are designed to cause injury and are inherently dangerous. Other objects, such as stones, boots, or a crowbar, can result in serious bodily injury or death if they are used in a manner likely to do so.

Examples of Simple and Aggravated Assault

The best way to understand the differences between simple and aggravated assault is to see some examples of both. 

Examples of simple assault: 

  • Pushing another person;

  • Threatening to harm physically another person;

  •  Waving your first in front of another person’s face as if you’re about to punch them;

  •  Attempting to punch someone and missing them;

  • Grabbing another person’s arm and causing them pain;

  • Hair pulling, shoving against a wall, or shoving someone down; and

  • Throwing an object at another person.

Examples of aggravated assault:

  • Pointing a gun at another person;

  • Pointing a knife at another person to strike them;

  • Actually shooting or stabbing someone;

  • Striking someone so hard that you break their bone;

  • Causing so much physical harm to a person that they have to be hospitalized;

  •  Assaulting a person who cannot protect themselves, such as an elderly person, disabled person, or a small child; and

  • Assaulting a police officer, social worker, or healthcare worker.

Penalties for aggravated assault

When an assault is committed with a deadly weapon, the penalties are generally steeper. Nevertheless, the judge has some discretion over how long the maximum sentence for assault will be, as well as whether a portion may be served on probation rather than in prison.

Judges often consider the following factors when making a decision:

  • Defense evidence presented at trial;

  • Remorse displayed by the defendant;

  • The circumstances of the felony;

  • The extent of the injuries;

  • Criminal record of the defendant; and

  • Relationship between victim and defendant.

How Much Jail Time Can You Get for Assault?

Assaulting someone with a deadly weapon is a felony charge that can have devastating consequences. Felony convictions could result in lengthy prison sentences and a stigma associated with them. It can be difficult for felons to find employment, and they cannot vote or possess firearms. Misdemeanor charges might seem insignificant, but you can face significant penalties. A jail sentence can have a negative impact on an individual’s career and life. Even a misdemeanor assault conviction will not look good to potential landlords or employers. You can protect your rights and get the best possible result with the help of a criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with assault.

How many years can you get for a simple assault?

Most simple assaults are considered misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail. Depending on the state’s sentencing statute or guidelines, aggravated assaults are usually punishable by one to twenty years in prison. Generally, the judge has a bit of discretion when determining the length of the sentence and whether to let the defendant serve any part of it on probation instead of in prison.

How much time do you get for aggravated assault?

The penalties for aggravated assault can be severe, as it is a felony in every state. How much time you get for assault can be determined by several factors. Assault and/or battery becomes an aggravated crime if:

  • There was a deadly weapon used;

  • The victim is considered a protected group;

  • The perpetrator intended great bodily harm; or

  • The injury was severe.

When assessing assault and battery penalties, the type of weapon used matters. States like Michigan don’t have laws separating punishment for different types of weapons, while states like California do. In California, different penalties are prescribed for different types of weapons. You may be wondering, how much jail time for assault is the norm? Well, it depends.

For example:

  • A caustic chemical assault is punishable by two, three, or four years in prison;

  • Using deadly weapons is either a misdemeanor or a felony (two, three, or four years in prison);

  • Machine gun assaults are punishable by four, eight, or twelve years in prison;

  • Assaults with semiautomatic firearms are punishable by three, six, or nine years in prison.

Regardless of the type of weapon used, the victim’s status is paramount in determining the severity of the sentence. Assaults and battery against a police officer or other public servants, such as a paramedic, firefighter, or teacher, are punishable more harshly in many states.

For assaults and batteries committed against family members or people living with the offender, the laws may impose harsher penalties, and such crimes may be prosecuted under domestic abuse laws.

Penalties for Simple and Aggravated Assault

Sentencing factors considered by judges

A judge usually considers the defenses presented at trial, whether the defendant has admitted liability and shown remorse, the circumstances around the crime, the extent of any injuries sustained, the weapon used, the accused’s prior criminal record, and, in some situations, the victim’s background or relationships with the defendant.

Enhancing sentences for protected victims

So, how many years can you get for assault? The court can add extra time to the sentence of any assault against a special victim, such as a police officer or elderly person in certain states. A deadly weapon used in an assault or battery often carries more severe penalties or enhanced sentencing provisions. Some states have even more severe penalties.

The Four Types of Assault

To build a solid defense, it is crucial to know the differences between the four types of assault.

Petty assault

Class 1 offenses are usually reserved for lower-level offenses. The prosecution is handled by a city attorney in municipal court. A county jail sentence of up to a year can be imposed on someone convicted of petty assault.

Third-degree assault

The crime appears similar to petty assault, but it is a misdemeanor that includes an “extraordinary risk.” A prosecutor from the district attorney’s office will try the case, and the maximum fine is two years in county jail.

Second-degree assault

Second Degree Assault is a more serious Class 4 felony that involves either serious bodily injury or the use of a deadly weapon. Second-degree assault, which the DA prosecutes, is tried in district court and carries a mandatory prison sentence of five to sixteen years.

First-degree assault

Both a deadly weapon and serious bodily injury are involved in this Class 3 felony. First-degree assault can carry a sentence of 10 to 32 years in prison if tried in district court with a district attorney prosecuting.

Defenses and Ways of Staying Out of Assault Convictions

You can avoid being convicted of assault. Factors that are often considered in determining whether or not to impose no jail time for assault include:

  • Stability of employment;

  • Absence of a criminal record;

  • Maintaining strong, healthy relationships;

  • Absence of alcoholism or drug addiction; and

  • A criminal defense attorney with experience and knowledge can also help.

Being charged with criminal assault can be a frightening and stressful experience. It is important to have a criminal defense lawyer by your side. In this context, legal documents like an affidavit might be useful. A character reference crafted as an affidavit by someone reputable who knows the defendant well can potentially testify to their good character attributes, further strengthening the defense case.


Battery and assault are serious offenses. Several factors influence the sentencing process, including state statutes, the facts of an individual case, and more. Assault and battery charges can be daunting, but you can mitigate the consequences of your case with the help of a qualified lawyer who upholds a legal attorney-client relationship. Contact a law firm today to find a qualified lawyer in your area if you are facing assault charges. The best advice you can get is to hire a good lawyer experienced with assault and then build a strong case together.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

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