If you’re like most Americans, you’ve heard the word “assault” quite a lot, be it in media, the news, or studying law. Fewer know the specifics of what that means, however, especially on a state level.
Join us today as review what Wisconsin law does (and does not) say regarding battery and assault charges.
The Basics of Assault Charges
First, many misconceptions should be cleared up when it comes to assault and battery. Battery, defined in law, is a physically violent crime that involves doing bodily harm to another.
Assault, however, is more complex. The Supreme Court has established that an assault can occur “merely by putting another in apprehension of harm.” It is irrelevant whether the actor actually intends to inflict or is capable of inflicting that harm.
In short, assault is a crime of threat. In fact, one can commit an assault without actually intending to do another harm so long as it was reasonable for them to fear you would do so.
However, things are complicated further by another fact many will find strange: Wisconsin does not use the term “assault” in the statutes we tend to associate with such crimes (with the exception of sexual assault).
Assault in Wisconsin
If Wisconsin law doesn’t tend to use the term “assault,” the next logical question is to wonder if there is any kind of equivalent. As one might expect, there are still laws in place that more or less enforce the same protections that states that have the term in their books do.
Wisconsin statute 943.30 covers “Threats to injure or accuse of a crime,” and many of the crimes listed are in line with how the Supreme Court has defined assault.
Generally speaking, threatening to harm someone is a Class H felony in Wisconsin. It is also worth noting rules about threatening to falsely accuse one of a crime are covered in the same statute, although that would not traditionally be called “assault.”
A Class H felony carries a maximum fine of $10,000 or a prison sentence not to exceed 6 years, or both. The specifics of a sentence will vary depending on the nature of the threat and the various circumstances of the case.
As a felony charge, those convicted of this sort of crime will be unable to vote until the full completion of their sentence. They will also have the charge added to their record, although in some cases, you may eventually be able to have that record sealed.
Sexual assault, the only kind of assault labeled as such in Wisconsin law, is a very serious category of charges. Sexual assault can broadly be defined as any sexual contact or intercourse performed without the victim’s consent.
There are four degrees of sexual assault:
- First-degree sexual assault (Class B felony)
- Second-degree sexual assault (Class C felony)
- Third-degree sexual assault (Class G felony)
- Fourth-degree sexual assault (Class A misdemeanor)
Generally speaking, the more violent the assault and the more harm that is done to the victim, the more serious the charge. Working in groups, using weapons, causing pregnancy, victimizing a vulnerable class of person, and more can all raise the severity of an assault charge.
Marriage (or a romantic/sexual relationship of any kind, including encounters with sex workers) does not prevent one from being charged with sexual assault. Consent must be given in each encounter and is not implied by previous sexual encounters or social expectations.
Moreover, receiving consent for sexual contact or intercourse and then it being withdrawn means one must stop the now unwanted contact. Continuing sexual contact after consent is withdrawn can also result in legitimate sexual assault charges levied against you.
A Confusion of Terms
It should be acknowledged that when most people say “assault,” they mean “battery.” Battery, as defined by Wisconsin, is one causes harm to another with intent to do that harm.
The severity of battery charges depends on the amount of harm done and the amount of harm the attacker intended.
Putting aside edge cases, such as battery committed by prisoners or against fetuses (although these are worthy of their own article), battery can be broken down into 4 categories (the severity of the charge will be listed afterward in parenthesis):
- Doing bodily harm to another with intent to do that harm (Class A misdemeanor)
- Doing substantial bodily harm to another with intent to do harm (Class I felony)
- Doing great bodily harm to another with intent to do less harm than was caused (Class H felony)
- Doing great bodily harm to another with intent to do great bodily harm (Class E felony)
Additionally, causing bodily harm to a person considered at substantial risk of great bodily harm is also considered a Class H felony. For example, doing harm to the elderly or physically disabled.
Note that battery is non-consensual. Doing harm to another with their willing consent may be dangerous and potentially illegal for other reasons, but it is not battery.
Take Assault and Battery Charges Seriously
If you are charged with assault (or, in Wisconsin, threatening to injure someone) and/or battery, do not doubt the seriousness of the charges. The penalties for these crimes are steep and carry long-lasting consequences.
The moment you are charged, ask for a lawyer and otherwise do not speak unless necessary. If an officer implies you must respond to them, first ask if you are legally required to do so and remind them you would like your lawyer.
This may sound somewhat sinister, but the reality of the legal system is law enforcement agents are not your friends. If they have charged you with a crime, they have built their case and believe they have enough evidence to convict you. Your actual guilt or innocence is largely irrelevant.
Your goal should be to receive the full protection the law allows you and both sides to present their arguments for your guilt and innocence in court.
If possible, hire a proven lawyer specializing in criminal law. While a public defender will be provided if you cannot afford a lawyer, these lawyers tend to be overworked and vary wildly in quality.
Have Questions or Need a Lawyer?
At Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Froehle, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping people facing criminal charges of all kinds. If you or someone you know is facing any of the above charges in Wisconsin, we can help.
While assault charges don’t technically exist in Wisconsin law, we can help with the equivalent. Whether you’re guilty or innocent, everyone deserves the legal representation they are owed under the law.
If you have questions for our firm or need a lawyer as soon as possible, contact us. We can discuss your unique situation and needs, helping you to find the best path forward.