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Fighting words can lead to assault charges in Tennessee

| Apr 9, 2020 | Criminal Defense

When some people get angry, they can become very verbally aggressive, even though they don’t become violent. The same is true for others when they drink. You might think that as long as you don’t lay hands on someone, getting a little aggressive isn’t a significant concern.

However, under Tennessee state law, individuals who make threats against someone could wind up facing legal charges. What you may think of it as hyperbole, exaggeration or a verbal spat could inspire legitimate fear in another person for their safety and push them to reach out to law enforcement. If that happens, you can find yourself charged with assault under Tennessee state law even if you never put your hands on the other person.

You don’t have to hurt someone to face assault charges

Assault charges often stem from acts of bodily violence. Inappropriate, offensive or aggressive touching of another person without their consent can easily lead to assault charges. When someone’s act of assault causes significant bodily injury, the result could be aggravated assault charges.

However, the Tennessee statute that defines basic assault doesn’t stop with physical altercations or actions that cause bodily injury to someone. The law also protects people from threats of violence that they find credible, which could include both verbal threats and even physical body language intended to intimidate someone else.

Someone’s fear, not your intention, determines if you face charges

The intent is often an aspect of criminal charges, but it matters less than you might think in assault cases stemming from threats. The standard for whether someone’s words or behavior constitute assault or not revolves around whether the victim felt fear, not if the person intended to follow through with the threat.

You may have known that you would never have followed through on a threat to break a chair over someone’s head, but if the other person doesn’t know you well enough to reach the same conclusion, those words could have made them fear intensely for their safety.

Don’t dismiss the seriousness of assault charges just because you didn’t hurt the other party. There are many ways to push back against assault charges, including showing that the other party started the altercations or demonstrating that their version of events is inaccurate.

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