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DC Assault Laws

The Washington DC Criminal code deals with all crimes labeled assault, mayhem, or threats, as well as assaults with the intent to kill, rob, poison, commit first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree sexual abuse, or child sexual abuse. Understanding DC assault laws is imperative in a defense. If you have questions or concerns about any of the following regulations, or if you or a loved one has been charged with assault in the District of Columbia, please contact a competent DC assault lawyer today to learn more.

What is the Definition of Assault?

Generally, “assault” is defined as the threat or use of force on an individual that causes them to have a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact. Assault is treated very seriously in DC. It could be seen as just a civil wrong or a criminal offense.

Assault laws in DC cover “assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner”. This crime is a misdemeanor that applies to anyone who intentionally causes or attempts to cause harmful or unwanted contact with another person. It also covers anyone who threatens such assault in a manner that gives the threatened person a reasonable belief of imminent harm or unwanted contact.


The penalty is a fine up to $1,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both. If a person assaults or threatens to assault another person, and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes that person to require hospitalization or immediate medical attention, the penalty could increase to a fine up to $12,500, a sentence of up to three years in prison, or both.

Aggravated Assault

DC Code Section 22-404.01 covers “aggravated assault.” DC law states that aggravated assault occurs when a person purposefully causes serious bodily injury to another, or a person knowingly does something which creates a grave risk of serious bodily injury to another. Under circumstances that demonstrate an extreme indifference to human life

Aggravated assault carries the penalty of a felony conviction, a fine of no more than $25,000, up to 10 years in prison, or both. Attempted aggravated assault also carries serious penalties of a felony conviction, a fine of up to $12,500, up to five years in prison, or both.

Assault with Intent to Commit

When a person commits assault with the intent to commit a separate crime, the crime transforms from a misdemeanor to a felony with penalties that include years in prison.

Based on DC assault laws, a felony conviction and imprisonment for two to 15 years are the penalties for any individual convicted of assault with intent to:

  • Commit murder
  • Commit robbery
  • Kill by mixing poison with food, drink, or medicine
  • Poison any well, spring, or cistern of water
  • Commit first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree sexual abuse, or child abuse

Any person convicted of assault with intent to permanently disable, disfigure, or assault with a dangerous weapon, will face a felony conviction and up to 10 years in prison.

An individual who assaults another person with the intent to commit any imprisonable offense not mentioned above faces a felony conviction and up to five years in prison.

What is Mayhem or Malicious Disfiguring?

Based on assault laws in DC, mayhem is a legal term that generally means the intentional maiming of another person.

However, mayhem is almost exclusively used to describe ‘intentional maiming’ that results in a permanent injury (i.e., disfiguring, disabling the use of one’s arms/legs, etc.). In Washington, DC, if an individual is convicted of mayhem or of maliciously disfiguring a person, they face a felony conviction and up to 10 years in prison.

Threats to do Bodily Harm

The most minor of assault charges, Section 22-407 states that any person who threatens to do bodily harm to another person is guilty of misdemeanor assault. They face a fine of up to $1000, up to six months in jail, or both.

Assaulting an Officer

Assaulting an officer is a much more serious offense than mere assault. However, assault laws in the District of Columbia take a broad view of who constitutes a law enforcement officer, including:

  • Any officer or member of any police force authorized to act in DC
  • Reserve officers or designated civilian employees of the Metropolitan Police Department
  • Licensed special police officers
  • Officers and members of any DC fire department
  • Officers and employees of any DC penal or correctional institutions
  • Officers and employees of the DC government supervising juveniles in DC facilities (although the facilities do not be located within DC)
  • Investigators and code inspectors employed by the DC government

Any officer and employee of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Social Services Division of the Superior Court or the Pretrial Services Agency are considered law enforcement officers, as well.

Two Levels of Severity

There are two levels of severity when assaulting an officer. The first, less serious charge requires an individual to assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with an officer performing their official duties. It does not matter if the assault occurs because the officer is performing their official duty, or if the assault merely occurs during the officer’s performance of their official duties. An individual convicted of assaulting an officer under these circumstances will be guilty of a misdemeanor and will face up to 180 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, or both.

The second and more serious crime occurs when an individual either causes the officer to require hospitalization or immediate medical attention or commits a violent act that creates a risk of an officer needing medical attention.

By assaulting an officer and either harming the officer or creating a great risk of harm to the officer one faces much harsher penalties. This includes a felony conviction, as well as up to 10 years in prison, a $25,000 fine, or both.

Justifications and Excuses

Lastly, it is important to note that a person cannot argue a justifiable or excusable cause for using force to resist arrest by demonstrating that the arrest was unlawful. In fact, whether or not such an arrest is lawful, a person can be held accountable for resisting arrest as long as they have reason to believe the individual arresting them is a law enforcement officer.

Reasonable Apprehension of Immediate Harm

When a person is under reasonable apprehension of immediate harm or unwanted contact, that person has a right to use a reasonable amount of force in self-defense because self-defense is considered to be an affirmative defense. When a person raises the defense of self-defense, the prosecutors have an obligation to disprove the person’s claim of self-defense.

DC assault laws state that when a person argues that they acted in self-defense and used a reasonable amount of force to defend themselves against imminent danger of bodily harm, the prosecutors must prove that the person did not act in self-defense to be able to prove the person guilty of an assault. The standard that permits a person to use self-defense is that they use a reasonable amount of force when they believe they are in imminent danger of bodily harm and their belief is reasonable under the circumstances.

How a DC Assault Lawyer Can Help

DC assault laws can be complex. Assault is a crime that is very fact-specific. It often arises from a very confusing set of facts with witnesses who may not have been paying full attention. This means that the assistance of an experienced DC assault lawyer can be vital to defeating the charge and retaining one’s freedom. Call for the help of a legal professional today.

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