assault, in law, an attempt or threat, going beyond mere words, to use violence, with the intent and the apparent ability to do harm to another. If violent contact actually occurs, the offense of battery has been committed; modern criminal statutes often combine assault and battery. An assault may be both a crime and a tort, for which the party assaulted may sue for damages; the victim's freedom, as to move or remain at peace, must have been impinged on. Modern criminal statutes recognize certain degrees of assault (e.g., with intent to kill, to do great bodily harm, to rape) as aggravated assaults and felonies, though simple assault remains, as at common law, a misdemeanor. Either malevolence or recklessness (as in driving a car in reckless disregard of human life) may constitute the intent necessary to assault in most jurisdictions.
See W. L. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts (3d ed. 1964).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.