Things were much easier when we were little kids with little baby fists and little baby problems. If we got into any sort of altercation, we just had to be pried apart like crying Velcro and put in separate corners for a bit, and then we happily moved on with our juice boxes. Now as adults, though, physical altercations are taken a bit more seriously.

It’s not exactly clear cut, though. Like every other area of law, the statutes surrounding assault are trying to account for as many human experiences as possible, and therefore, depending on the exact circumstances of the situation, you could face a slew of different charges. Multiple factors dictate just how serious your charges are and seemingly innocuous information can sometimes elevate them far above what’s actually reasonable — if anything even is.

Even if you were acting in self-defense, even if you did nothing at all, and even if there’s proof of that, you still need an attorney on your side to make sure you stay untangled in the web of the law.

What does aggravated assault even mean, legally?

Assault in general is simply defined as the intentional attempt to touch someone without their consent — that’s it. That’s all you need to be found guilty for. Maryland doesn’t even have battery (the actual touching) as its own charge, so the intent is all they need to prove to get you in serious trouble.

As I said, the severity of the assault charge affects the severity of the consequences, with first-degree assault being at the top of the list. First-degree assault in Maryland is aggravated assault. If you’re convicted of first-degree assault, it means you intentionally tried to (or actually did) cause serious bodily harm or physical injury to another. A conviction like that can never be expunged and it carries 25 years in prison or more, with hefty fines and legal fees to boot. It will follow you forever, I assure you.

Assault charges can get much worse very easily

One of the many reasons why we tell clients to keep their mouths shut unless they’re talking to us is just because it’s all too easy to accidentally incriminate yourself, especially in assault cases. What you think is an innocent detail may end up elevating your charges significantly.

To really understand just how easy this is, we can look at Maryland’s relatively new law regarding strangulation. You might think strangulation is a pretty obvious and severe crime — like Homer and Bart, or a bad guy on NCIS. And it is severe, but the statute regarding it is so ambiguous that you don’t have to actually strangle someone (or even try to!) to be charged with what is now considered first-degree assault. See, it describes strangulation as, “impeding the normal breathing or blood circulation of another person by applying pressure to the other person’s throat or neck,” with no actual definition as to how much pressure, meaning pretty much any touch to the neck could be considered as proof. They don’t even need medical professionals to inspect the alleged wound, even though real life strangulation doesn’t always leave visible marks.

For cases of alleged domestic violence, there’s already an incredibly low threshold of physical evidence that can lead to an arrest. Really, all the supposed victim has to do is report it, and the police and prosecutors take it from there. Even if the victim recants, your case is now in the hands of the state, and you could lose your kids, your job, and your future while putting you behind bars for years. As if that’s not difficult enough to fight, now prosecutors are charging defendants with even attempted first-degree murder for the slightest indication of neck touching. All you have to do is mention or accidentally show a sign that you “applied pressure” on the victim’s throat and boy, oh boy, are you in for the OPPOSITE of a treat.

Sure, you can always claim self-defense if you’re charged with first-degree assault — Maryland does allow you to stand your ground if you’re attacked in your home, for example — but you have to then be able to prove it, and this is not easy to do. For a self-defense claim to stick in court, you have a list of criteria your situation must match. This includes not being the initial aggressor, genuinely believing you were in real and serious danger, using REASONABLE FORCE (meaning you cannot shoot someone who slaps you), and if you were in public, you had to have had no possible escape route. Then you have to actually provide evidence supporting the amount of danger you thought you were in, or at least supporting WHY you would think that. So yes, it’s possible, and if it’s the best thing for your case your attorney will help you, but you should not rely on it as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Despite what TV says, self-defense is a defense that requires legitimate proof.

Criminal defense attorneys know how to handle serious assault cases

The law is incredibly complicated and complex and the ONLY people who truly understand it are those who have gone through years of vigorous schooling to do so. If your situation is especially convoluted, you may be surrounded by prosecutors and cops telling you your case is hopeless and you should just plead guilty and accept conviction, and the average layperson would have no reason to question that. But a criminal defense attorney knows that isn’t true. Even with the most hopeless-looking assault cases, there are defenses available to you and options to explore, but you just can’t do it without an attorney who can tailor the appropriate defense to your case, and accurately and legally fight on your behalf.

If you’re in Annapolis or Ellicott City and you’re facing first-degree assault charges, you need my firm: Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law. With my years of experience and tenacious attitude, I don’t rest until you have received the fullest assistance the law can offer. You — yes, you — do not have to accept prison. Call me today or use my contact form and let me prove what I can do for you.

Just remember — Keep Calm, and Call Drew!