Answer: yes, you absolutely can be charged with assault after the fact.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Can You Be Charged With Assault After The Fact? (Explained)
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There are several ways that law enforcement officers gather evidence of assault, including:
- taking statements from witnesses observed the incident as it happened at the location with their eyes
- taking statements from witnesses observed the incident live but from a remote location (security camera)
- taking statements from witnesses observed the incident after the fact by reviewing footage
- taking statements from witnesses who tattle on the offender (“I saw Jon go into Dave’s house.”)
- taking statements from the offender himself during an interview, a set up phone call, etc
- collecting evidence from witnesses or the defendant that could only have been obtained during the commission of the crime.
While television shoes often portray dramatic confrontations of people who commit crimes, many citizens are charged days or even weeks after the incident occurred.
Sadly, there just aren’t enough law enforcement officers on duty to respond to every single 9-1-1 call, and sometimes the crime is even discovered until a later date (like people don’t realize that what happened was a crime).
Without imminent threat to life, it is rare for law enforcement to be able to scramble resources to the property to catch the offender red-handed.
Once law enforcement has finished their investigation, they’ll pack up everything and forward it to the prosecutor.
Making Charging Decisions
The prosecutor has to weigh justice for the public against the cost of pursuing an assault case.
While assault is illegal, the prosecutor may have a limited amount of time and money to utilize to work on cases.
When faced with a messy bar fight where it is tough to pinpoint the aggressor vs an overwhelming show of force against with a vulnerable bleeding victim, some assault cases may not receive the attention that the victim(s) of the assault deserve.
The prosecutor reviews the evidence, weighs the factors that members of the public don’t usually think about, and then files or no-files.
If the prosecutor has an easy (or easy-ish) case to prove, he is more likely to file.
An easier case to prove is one where the evidence is already lined up and clearly identifies the offender, the time and date of the offense, the location of the offense, and what happened, and the evidence is all admissible in court at trial.
A not-so-easy case is one where both parties participated in the violence, both parties are covered in injuries, witnesses to the incident tell conflicting accounts, involved witnesses may be lying or telling inconsistent versions, etc.
Statute of Limitations on Assault
While prosecution for assault doesn’t always happen immediately, the police and government have limits for how long they can wait to pursue the case.
On the criminal side, there will be an applicable statute of limitations that limits the time frame to file.
Assault could be a misdemeanor or a felony.
The seriousness of an assault case usually depends on how much damage was caused (bruises vs bleeding, minimal pain vs serious physical injury, etc).
In some states, the statute of limitations is 12 months, while other states it is 24 months.
In some states, the statute might be even longer.
Depending on the seriousness of the crime in the state, the prosecutor may have more or less time to file charges.
In the civil side, even if the criminal statute of limitations has passed, the victim of the assault may still be able to pursue the offender for the assault.
The intentional tort of ‘assault’ (aka battery) may have a statute of limitations of 2 to 6 years, depending upon the state.
Should You Confer With a Lawyer?
This is a great question, and it really depends on the case.
In some states, a simple assault case might be resolved without much fanfare or punishment.
Many courts (especially municipal courts) have alternative disposition programs (like probation) aimed at low level misdemeanors.
Conferring with a criminal defense attorney who practices in the jurisdiction where the incident occurred early on can help someone:
- understand the process of the prosecution
- analyze the facts and the likelihood of prosecution
- avoid making the case worse
- consider potential outcomes (trial, alternative disposition, probation, jail)
- understand what self-representation might look like
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