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Criminal Defence Articles

How to get an Assault Charge dropped in the UK

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If you or someone you care about is facing an assault charge, understandably you may be feeling anxious, worried, and scared about what might happen next. You’re not alone – thousands of people each year are charged with assault, and most of them are wondering how to get the charges dropped. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common questions we get about assault charges and how to get them dropped, including the defences that are available to you. We also outline what sentence you could be looking at if convicted.

How serious is a common assault charge?

Any crime is serious, and common assault is no exception. Violent crime has devastating consequences on the victim, the victim’s family, and wider society as a whole. The offender and their friends and family, too, are often very seriously impacted by the commission of a violent crime. It is no surprise, therefore, that the police and the courts take common assault seriously.

What is the difference between assault and battery?

In England and Wales, assault and battery are two separate offences, but they are often charged together. Assault is when someone threatens or attempts to apply unlawful force on another person. Battery is when unlawful force is actually applied to another person. In other words, assault is the threat of violence while battery is the actual violence itself.

You can be charged with either assault or battery, or both. The offence you are charged with will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case.

The offence of common assault was created by Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The Act does not define what assault is, however. Instead, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) defines assault as follows:

‘An assault is any act (and not mere omission to act) by which a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to suffer or apprehend immediate unlawful violence. The term assault is often used to include a battery, which is committed by the intentional or reckless application of unlawful force to another person.’

Examples of common assault include:

  • Punching or slapping someone
  • Spitting on someone
  • Kicking or shoving someone
  • Throwing something at someone
  • Restraining someone against their will

Is shouting at someone assault?

Assault is when you cause someone apprehension of immediate unlawful violence, so shouting at them in a way that makes them think you are about to hurt them can count as assault. The violence anticipated does have to be immediate, however, so if you shouted at someone from across the street and then carried on walking in the other direction, a charge of common assault is unlikely (though it might be something else if it happens routinely, like hate speech or harassment).

Does pushing someone count as assault?

Yes, pushing someone can count as assault. Pushing is a type of unlawful force, so if it makes someone think you are about to hurt them even more, it can be classed as an assault. For an assault charge, it doesn’t actually matter whether you inflict harm on the person – what matters is that they anticipate immediate unlawful violence because of your actions.

What is the usual sentence for common assault?

Under the Criminal Justice Act, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for common assault in England and Wales is six months’ imprisonment. In reality, however, most people who are convicted of common assault will receive a lesser charge, such as a fine or a community sentence.

The sentence you receive will depend on the severity of the assault and your personal circumstances. The court will also take into account any mitigating factors, such as if you acted in self-defence or if you were provoked.

What defences are available for common assault charges?

If a case proceeds to trial, it means that the police and the CPS believe they have enough evidence to secure a conviction against you in court. By the time a case proceeds to court, therefore, it is unlikely that any assault charges will be dropped because of evidentiary reasons (unless new exculpatory evidence comes to light). Instead, the only way out of a charge at this point is to raise a legal defence.

Some of the main defences to common assault charges include:

  • Self-defence: You can only use self-defence if you reasonably believe that violence is being used (or about to be used) against you, and that using force is necessary to protect yourself from this violence. This defence can be raised even if you have used more force than was strictly necessary to protect yourself.
  • Provocation: You can only use provocation as a defence if you were provoked into committing the assault, and if a reasonable person in your shoes would have reacted in the same way. It is important to note that mere words cannot constitute provocation – there must be some physical act as well.
  • Consent: In some cases, you may be able to argue that the victim of the assault consented to being harmed. This is most likely to come up in circumstances where someone has consented to a sporting activity that involves contact (like boxing or MMA), but can also apply in other situations (like surgery).
  • Duress: You may be able to argue that you only committed the assault because you were threatened with serious harm if you did not do so. For this defence to succeed, the threat must have been of such severity that a person of ‘ordinary temerity’ would have yielded to it.

What are the chances of getting an assault charge dropped?

It is very difficult to give a definitive answer to this question, as the chances of getting an assault charge dropped will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.

That said, there are a few things that can increase your chances of getting an assault charge dropped.

First, if you have been charged with common assault but the evidence against you is weak, it is possible that the charge will be dropped before the case goes to court. This usually happens if the police and CPS do not believe they have a strong enough case to secure a conviction.

Second, even if the evidence against you is strong, it is still possible that the charge will be dropped if you have a strong defence. As mentioned above, some of the main defences to common assault include self-defence, provocation, consent, and duress. If you can successfully raise one of these defences, it is possible that the charge will be dropped.

Finally, even if neither of the above applies to your case, it is still possible that the charge will be dropped if the victim of the assault does not wish to press charges. This is most likely to happen where the assault was relatively minor and was committed by someone who is known to the victim (for example, a family member or friend).

Can you get fined for assault?

Yes, you can get fined for assault in addition to receiving a prison sentence. Prior to 13 March 2015, the maximum that fine could be was £5,000. Since then, however, there is no maximum cap on the fine amount. The court makes a decision about what the fine should be based on how serious the offence was and the financial circumstances of the offender.

Generally speaking, a fine for common assault is unlikely to exceed 175% of your weekly income. The court also ensures that the fine will be a hardship, but it should not deprive the defendant of the means to live. Typically, the defendant should be able to pay off the time within 12 months.

Can you go to jail for hitting someone?

Hitting someone can lead to a common assault charge, and a common assault conviction can attract a prison sentence of up to six months.

Can a victim withdraw a statement?

Yes, victims can withdraw their statements. However, this does not mean that the case will be automatically dropped. The decision to prosecute lies with the CPS, not the victim, and so the case may still go ahead even if the victim has withdrawn their statement. The reason for this is that it is in the interest of the public for the police and CPS to still charge people with crimes even if the victim withdraws their statement because the job of law enforcement is to keep people safe. The only reason the police or CPS might drop an assault charge if the victim withdraws their statement is if there is no realistic prospect of securing a conviction if the victim will not testify in court.

Can a domestic violence case be withdrawn?

It is possible for a domestic violence case to be withdrawn if the victim changes their mind about testifying. However, as we have seen, this does not mean that the case will be automatically dropped.

Where to get more help?

Dealing with an assault charge is stressful, but you can help lower that stress by getting specialist advice from an experienced criminal defence solicitor. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, our friendly team of criminal law experts is standing by ready to assist with your case. Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation today.

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