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What separates assault in the first degree from other offenses?

On Behalf of | May 6, 2022 | Criminal Defense

When we think of assault offenses, we often think of something like a fight breaking out in a bar. And while this is common enough, it usually represents the least serious form of assault – that of the third degree. Hawaii also has more serious versions of assault, including first and second degree assault. So what does it take to rise to the most serious?

Serious bodily injury

The level of injury sustained – serious bodily injury – is often the defining factor of a first degree assault. Serious bodily injury is defined as an injury which creates a substantial risk of death or causes permanent disfigurement or impairment. Although a weapon may often be used to inflict serious bodily injury, it is not required. The person inflicting the injury must do so either intentionally or knowingly.

Substantial bodily injury

If the person who is injured is 60 years of age or older, serious bodily injury is not necessary. Instead, substantial bodily injury is sufficient for the act to be charged as assault in the first degree. Substantial bodily injury refers to lesser injuries such as significant lacerations, burns, or broken bones – those which wouldn’t rise to the level of being life-threatening. To qualify as first degree assault, the person inflicting the injury must know, or reasonably should have known, that the person was 60 or older.

Assault against law enforcement

Finally, assault in the first degree can be charged when virtually any bodily injury is caused if the person injured is a law enforcement officer. The officer must be engaged in the performance of their duties. If no weapon is used, the injury must be caused intentionally or knowingly. But if a weapon is used, first degree assault can be charged even if the injury was caused negligently or recklessly.