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A threat may be an assault when backed up by action

When you think of assault charges, do you assume that physical contact had to occur? If so, you may be surprised to learn that, legally speaking, just making a threat could constitute assault.

To a degree, the legal standard says that the alleged victim has to believe that harmful contact was going to occur. This means not all threats fall into this category. Often, the threat has to be backed up by some sort of action that enhances this belief.

For example, if one person says that he or she is going to shoot the other person, but it's just an offhand comment and there's no visible firearm, that may not be assault. The victim doesn't actually think he or she is about to be shot. There's no indication that the other party plans to carry out the threat.

However, it that person is holding a gun and says he or she is going to shoot the other, that may be an assault even if no shots are ever fired. The alleged victim believes that the threat is viable and is frightened by it as a result.

This can hold true even if it was technically impossible for the threat to be carried out. For instance, perhaps that gun was never loaded to begin with. Maybe it wasn't even a real gun, but a replica. Since the alleged victim didn't know that, however, the threat could still bring about assault charges.

As you can see, assault may be far different than what you assumed. If you're facing charges for something you didn't realize was even a legal violation, be sure you know all of your rights and defense options.

Source: FindLaw, "Elements of Assault," accessed Sep. 21, 2017

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