Common Defenses to a Simple Assault Charge in Florida
There are a variety of effective defenses that are potentially available to criminal defendants who have been charged with simple assault. Read on to learn more.
Threat of Violence Was UnintentionalIn Florida, a conviction of simple assault requires that the prosecution prove:
That you intentionally threatened the victim;
That you had the apparent ability to carry out the intentional threat; and
That your threat created a well-founded fear of imminent violence.
Each of these elements are necessary for conviction.
It*s important to note that an unintentional act or statement even if it is fundamentally threatening in nature will not suffice as a threat of violence (for the purpose of simple assault conviction). An intentional threat is necessary to make the criminal defendant liable for the assault.
For example, imagine an international tourist visiting America. Perhaps the tourist is not fully proficient at speaking the English language. While ordering food, the tourist accidentally misspeaks and makes a threat to the cashier. This would likely not constitute a simple assault, as the threat is unintentional (though the criminal defendant would have to demonstrate with supportive evidence that it was, in fact, unintentional).
Defendant Was Authorized to Threaten ViolenceNot all threats are illegal. In certain cases, criminal defendants are authorized by their position to make a threat. Police officers are the most obvious candidates. Others may be authorized by the law to make threats as a means of controlling the situation. This is an absolute defense to simple assault liability.
Fear of Imminent Violence Was Not Well-FoundedFear of violence is not enough for criminal liability to attach. The prosecution must prove that you created by virtue of your threat a 1) well-founded fear of 2) imminent violence.
Future violence is too distant for simple assault conviction. For example, if you threaten to punch someone in a week's time, then you will not be liable for simple assault the threat is not imminent.
In any case, the victim's fear must also be well-founded. The victim's unique sensitivities will not expose you to a stricter standard. If a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances would have reacted with fear (of imminent violence) to your threat, then the prosecution may be able to find you guilty of simple assault. Whether the fear is well-founded depends on the circumstances, however. For example, if you walk away from someone and tell them that you're "going to kill them" in a casual tone, the threat of imminent violence seems unlikely.
Threat Was ConditionalIf your threat of violence was conditional on some other event such as the victim's behavior, then it cannot give rise to simple assault liability. For example, if you threaten to punch the victim in the event that they insult your family, that singular statement cannot be considered an assault. The calculus behind this defense is quite straightforward, actually. Any conditional threat cannot, by definition, create a fear of "imminent' violence, as the violence is conditioned on something that can be controlled by the victim.
Threat Made in Self-Defense or Defense of OthersIf you have been charged with simple assault, you can avoid conviction by demonstrating that your threat was made for the purpose of self-defense (or the defense of others). In such circumstances, the threat is reasonably intended to create a fear of imminent violence so as to frighten off others that may cause harm. For example, if you are walking with a friend late at night, and someone approaches you and your friend with an intent to commit theft, you would be entitled to shout violent threats at them to discourage them from going through with the theft of your person.