Assault in Maine, Misdemeanor, Felony & Aggravated Assault Laws

assault in Maine is a serious charge Assault in Maine is normally a misdemeanor but prior convictions, injuries, use of a weapon and other factors can increase the crime to a felony or an aggravated assault. The class of crime and the sentences depend on the circumstances of the incident and what facts the prosecutor can prove.

While assault sounds simple, it’s actually a complicated crime to prove and to defend. There are always factual disputes about what really happened, witnesses are often intoxicated, and defenses like self-defense often apply. To understand Maine assault charges, you need to know a bit about the law. This article covers the following topics, use the links to jump to that section:

Sentences and Penalties for Assault in Maine

There is a huge range of possible sentences for assault charges. Assault is generally a class D misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of less than one year and a minimum sentence of a $300 fine. As discussed below, assault can be charged as a class C felony carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and 2 years of probation. Aggravated assault charges are class B felonies carrying a maximum of 10 years in prison and 3 years of probation. Elevated aggravated assault is a class A felony which has a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and 4 years of probation. You can read this article for more details about sentencing in Maine. Keep in mind that a conviction for any felony crime triggers a lifetime federal firearms prohibition.

Misdemeanor Assault in Maine: Definitions, Sentences

All of Maine’s assault laws start with 17-A §207. This lays out the basic elements of the crime and provides that a person is guilty of assault in Maine if they:

  1. Intentionally, Knowingly or Recklessly cause
  2. Bodily injury or,
  3. Offensive physical contact to another person

State of Mind

Of course, the statute doesn’t mean much unless we understand the terms it uses. First, assault has a state of mind element. That means that a person only commits assault when a certain thought process leads to the bodily injury or physical contact. A person who accidentally crashes their car might cause an injury, but they have committed no assault. Here’s how Maine law defines these states of mind:

  • Intentionally: A person acts intentionally when it is their conscious object to cause such a result.
  • Knowingly: A person acts knowingly when the person is aware that it is practically certain that their conduct will cause such a result.
  • Recklessly: A person acts recklessly when the person consciously disregards a risk that their conduct will cause such a result.

Bodily Injury

Bodily Injury is defined by 17-A §2(5) to mean “physical pain, physical illness or any impairment of physical condition.” That’s a pretty broad definition: if it hurts, it’s bodily injury.

Offensive Physical Contact

Offensive Physical Contact is a bit harder to nail down and there’s no statute that details the definition. You might presume that “offensive physical contact” is only proven where the victim testifies that they found the contact to be somehow offensive. Unfortunately, you would be wrong, to prove offensive physical contact, the prosecution only needs to show that a reasonable person would have been offended by the contact.

Offensive Physical Contact that Doesn’t Offend?

The Maine Supreme Court first considered what “offensive physical contact” means in the 1981 case State v. Bushey. Defendants in that case were very drunk and were arrested after grabbing and hitting a police officer. They caused no injury, but were charged with assault. At trial, the officer actually testified that the contact was not offensive. The jury convicted anyway. In affirming the conviction, the Maine Supreme Court decided that offensive physical contact must be judged from an objective standard. While the victim’s subjective reaction to the contact is important, it does determine the issue. Otherwise, the court reasoned, a very sensitive victim would be assaulted at the slightest touch while an insensitive person could be beaten with impunity. Since that case, juries have generally been instructed as follows:

Offensive physical contact is defined as knowingly intending bodily contact or unlawful touching done in such a manner as would reasonably be expected to violate the person or dignity of the victim. It’s something less than bodily injury… but requires more than a mere touching of another. And basically its a question of was the contact under the circumstances such that a reasonable person would find it to be offensive. You may consider what a reasonable person might consider under the circumstances to be offensive as well as the subjective interpretation of the contact as a particular victim might testify to during the course of the trial. State v. Pozzuoli, 1997.

Assault is a class D crime punishable by up to 364 days in jail and $2000 in fines. Since the maximum sentence is less than one year, the crime is a referred to a as a misdemeanor. You can read this article for more details on Maine misdemeanor and felony sentencing.

Felony Assault for Young Victims

17-A 207(B) provides that assault an be charged as a class C felony if it involves a victim under 6 years old. This felony assault charge requires proof that:

  1. The defendant was at least 18 years old and
  2. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly caused
  3. Bodily injury
  4. To a person who was less than 6 years old.

This class C felony assault is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Note that “offensive physical contact” alone will not support the felony charge; there must be proof of “bodily injury” as defined above.

Felony Assault for Priors

Maine law allows an assault that would otherwise be charged as a class D misdemeanor to be charged as a class C felony if the defendant has two prior conviction for certain offenses. The statue detailing this is 17-A §1252 (4-A). The following prior convictions can be used:

  • Assault,
  • Criminal threatening,
  • Terrorizing,
  • Reckless conduct or another offense listed in Chapter 9
  • Any Sexual Assault listed in Chapter 11
  • Kidnaping, criminal restraint or any other offense listed in Chapter 13
  • Aggravated Criminal Trespass by entering a dwelling illegally and then violating chapter 9 or 11 17-A §402-A(1)(A)
  • Robbery 17-A §651.
  • Assault on an officer 17-A §752-A
  • Assault on an emergency medical care provider 17-A §752-C

Under 17-A §9-A, prior convictions can be counted if they predate the current offense by 10 years or less, except that for sexual assault offenses, the priors can be from any time. Priors from other states of from federal court also count if they are for “substantially similar conduct” to any of the evenses listed above.

If the charge is a class A felony such as Elevated Aggravated Assault, there is no way to increase the sentencing class since it’s already the highest class under Maine law. For class A crimes, the statute does provide that “the prior record must be given serious consideration by the court when imposing a sentence.”

Aggravated Assault: Injury, Weapon, Indifference

Aggravated assault is a class B felony crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. There are 3 subsections to 17-A §208 and those define the aggravating factors that will make an otherwise misdemeanor assault into an aggravated assault.

1. Serious Bodily Injury

If a person commits an assault as defined above, and causes serious bodily injury, they can be charged with aggravated assault. Serious bodily injury is defined by 17-A §2(23) as follows:

“Serious bodily injury” means a bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or loss or substantial impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or extended convalescence necessary for recovery of physical health.

2. Use of a Dangerous Weapon

If a dangerous weapon is used to cause bodily injury (which includes pain), the defendant can be charged with aggravated assault. The weapon does not need to be a gun or knife or even an object normally thought of as a weapon. Almost any object, like a stick, bottle, or car, can count. The  term is defined in 17-A §2(9)(A):

“Use of a dangerous weapon” means the use of a firearm or other weapon, device, instrument, material or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which, in the manner it is used or threatened to be used is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury

3. Extreme Indifference, Choking

A newer section of Maine’s aggravated assault law allows the charge where the defendant causes “Bodily injury to another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” The Statute goes on to explain that:

Such circumstances include, but are not limited to, the number, location or nature of the injuries, the manner or method inflicted, the observable physical condition of the victim or the use of strangulation. For the purpose of this paragraph, “strangulation” means the intentional impeding of the breathing or circulation of the blood of another person by applying pressure on the person’s throat or neck.

This alternative comes up a lot in domestic violence assault cases. Maine prosecutors will not hesitate to charge aggravated assault where a man is alleged to have put his hands around a woman’s neck.

Elevated Aggravated Assault

Elevated Aggravated Assault is a class A felony crime with a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. It’s defined by 17-A §208 and that section provides that a person is guilty of elevated aggravated assault if that person:

  • Intentionally or knowingly causes serious bodily injury to another person with the use of a dangerous weapon; or
  • Engages in conduct that manifests a depraved indifference to the value of human life and that in fact causes serious bodily injury to another person with the use of a dangerous weapon; or
  • With terroristic intent engages in conduct that in fact causes serious bodily injury to another person.

“Terroristic Intent” is defined by 17-A §2(25). It means the intent to do any of the following for the purpose of intimidating or coercing a civilian population or to affect the conduct of government:

  • Cause serious bodily injury or death to multiple persons;
  • Cause substantial damage to multiple structures; or
  • Cause substantial damage to critical infrastructure.

Obviously, elevated aggravated assault is only proven if the victim actually suffers serious bodily injury. Also elevated aggravated assault drops the recklessness state of mind option. The more serious charge must be supported by the more culpable intentional, knowing, or depraved indifference state of mind. This makes these charges harder for the prosecution to prove since mere recklessness will not support a conviction.

Felony Domestic Violence Assault

Everything above also applies to domestic violence assault charges. Having two of the priors listed above, use of a weapon, serious injury, or strangulation will all end in felony charges. But when it comes to domestic violence, you only need one of the following prior convictions to trigger a class C felony assault charge:

  • Domestic violence assault 17-A §207-A
  • Domestic violence criminal threatening 17-A §209-A.
  • Domestic violence terrorizing, 17-A §210-B.
  • Domestic violence stalking, 17-A §210-C.
  • Domestic violence reckless conduct, 17-A §211-A.
  • Violating a Protection from Abuse order 19-A § 4011
  • Felony violation of conditions of release 15 §1092 1(B), where the defendant was on bail for a domestic violence felony and violated a bail condition prohibiting contact with the victim or possessing a firearm

The prior convictions must be within 10 years of the current offense. Priors from other jurisdictions for “substantially similar conduct” can also be counted. You can read this article for more about Maine domestic violence assault charges.  Maine’s domestic violence assault statute is found here.

Defenses to Maine Assault Charges

Maine’s criminal statutes describe some defenses. These defenses are a set of facts or circumstances that allow a person to legally do something that would normally constitute a crime. These are described at 17-A Chapter 5 and include:

  • Self Defense or Defense of Others: Allows one to use force against someone that the person believes is about to attack them or someone else.
  • Defense of Premises: Allows a person in control of premises to use force against another who is committing or about to commit a criminal trespass, burglary or arson, upon the premisses.
  • Defense of Property: Allows a person to use force to prevent unlawful taking of or damage to their property, or to retake their property immediately after it is taken.

Even when there are no statutory defenses that justify the conduct, there are almost always factual disputes in assault cases. Who really threw the punch? Are the injuries “serious”? Are the witnesses mistaken or inconsistent in their stories? How credible and reliable is the victim?

Make no mistake, assault in Maine is a very serious offense. There are few  crimes that are more offensive to the judge or jury than those where one person wrongfully inflicts physical harm on another. But there are often issues that work to the defendant’s advantage and sometimes an assault case can turn on the smallest detail. A criminal defense attorney who understands the law and the trial process will be able to see the issues might help your case and effectively communicate that information to the court.

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