Assault charges don’t always mean you actually hurt someone

On Behalf of | Feb 5, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Assault is a basic term for a violent crime that causes physical injury to another person. However, despite what many people might believe, assault charges don’t just stem from hitting, kicking, biting or otherwise causing bodily injury to another person, at least not in Minnesota.


Instead, it is possible for you to face assault charges without ever putting your hands on another person. That is because Minnesota assault law doesn’t just cover acts of physical violence but also threatening or intimidating words or behavior intended to cause fear of death or physical injury in another person. The words you use could be grounds for assault charges, as could your body language or behavior.

Anything you say to intimidate someone could be a form of assault

When people feel angry, they often turn to aggressive language to make a point or to inspire negative emotions in other people. Threatening to hurt someone else, whether you tell them you’re going to break their nose or kill them, may help you blow off steam, but it also meets the definition of assault under Minnesota law. Any words or actions that could reasonably create a fear of injury or death in the person you target could be a reason for them to later pursue assault charges against you.

In fact, it is even possible for you to face assault charges for things you say to someone online. Exaggerated rhetoric and trolling are both common practices online, but they can leave people in legally precarious positions. If someone goes to law enforcement because they believed the aggressive language you used to communicate with them on a digital platform, whether you sent them threatening text messages or posted aggressive comments on social media, the state of Minnesota could choose to charge you with assault.

You don’t have to have actually had an intention to cause harm to the other person. What matters most is whether your actions or words inspired intense fear in that individual that made them worry for their well-being or safety.

Body language could even contribute to assault charges in some situations

Just because you don’t say something out loud doesn’t mean you haven’t engaged in threatening behavior that frightens someone else. Especially for those who are very tall or muscular, body language, facial expressions and gestures could also convey threats that leave someone in fear for their safety or their life.

Given that such threats depend more on the interpretation of the alleged victim than on the intention of the so-called perpetrator, you may need to be very careful in how you attempt to defend against assault charges stemming from verbal or nonverbal communication of threats. The wrong behavior in the courtroom or the wrong approach to your defense could leave you vulnerable to a conviction that could haunt you for many years to come.