What Is 4th-Degree Assault? (And How Much Time You’ll Spend In Jail)

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Fourth-degree assault is a legal term that varies significantly in definition and penalties across different jurisdictions within the United States. Generally classified as a misdemeanor, it involves less severe forms of physical attack or threats compared to first, second, or third-degree assault charges. This article provides an overview of what constitutes a fourth-degree assault, potential penalties, and factors influencing sentencing.

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Definition of 4th-Degree Assault

Fourth-degree assault typically encompasses actions intended to cause fear of harm, minor physical injuries, or non-consensual physical contact without significant injury. The exact definition can vary by state law but often includes:

  • Intentional or Reckless Physical Contact: Actions that knowingly cause or recklessly risk causing harm to another, including pushing, shoving, or spitting.
  • Fear of Immediate Harm: Threatening behavior that leads another person to fear imminent bodily harm, even if no physical contact occurs.

Examples of 4th-Degree Assault

  • A verbal threat accompanied by a gesture suggesting physical capability to carry out the threat.
  • Minor physical altercations that result in superficial injuries.
  • Unwanted touching that does not lead to significant injury.

Jurisdictional Differences

The classification and penalties for fourth-degree assault can differ widely across jurisdictions. Some states may categorize similar actions under different degrees of assault or use alternative terms like “simple assault” or “battery.”

Penalties and Sentencing

Misdemeanor Charges

As a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions, fourth-degree assault typically carries penalties including:

  • Jail Time: Sentences can range from a few days to a year in jail, depending on state laws and the specific circumstances of the case.
  • Fines: Fines for fourth-degree assault can vary, often up to $1,000 or more.
  • Probation: Courts may also impose probation, requiring the defendant to comply with certain conditions instead of serving time in jail.

Factors Influencing Sentencing

Sentencing for fourth-degree assault can be influenced by various factors, including:

  • Criminal History: Repeat offenders or those with a significant criminal history may face harsher penalties.
  • Circumstances of the Assault: The presence of aggravating factors, such as the assault occurring in the presence of a minor, can increase penalties.
  • Victim Impact: Consideration of the physical and emotional impact on the victim may influence sentencing.

Alternative Sentencing and Diversion Programs

First-time offenders or those involved in minor incidents may be eligible for alternative sentencing or diversion programs, which could include anger management classes, community service, or other rehabilitative measures.

Defenses against a charge of fourth-degree assault can include self-defense, defense of others, lack of intent to harm, or proving the accusations are false or exaggerated.


Fourth-degree assault is a serious charge that can result in jail time, fines, and other penalties. However, the exact nature of the offense, penalties, and possible defenses can vary significantly by jurisdiction. Individuals facing such charges should seek legal representation to navigate the complexities of the legal system and develop an effective defense strategy.


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