Answer: Maybe. It depends on the strength of the slap, the person who was slapped, and any pain or injury suffered.
In the article that follows, you’ll learn more about what qualifies as an assault and how an individual could still go to jail even if the slap didn’t leave a mark.
Is Slapping Someone Assault? (Explained)
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Potential Crimes Resulting From Slapping
All states in the United States have criminalized the intentional or even reckless harmful touching of another.
Most people understand that causing someone pain and/or injury is an assault.
Most people don’t realize that “offensive” touching that does not result in pain or injury is also criminal.
Offensive touching that does not cause pain or injury has different names in different states.
It might still be called an assault, battery, physical harassment, or even harassment.
At the core of these crimes is an intentional touching of another person without their permission that is offensive or harmful.
Touching someone’s clothing while they are wearing it, hat while they are wearing it, and their hair (long or short) would count as touching their person.
Touching someone without their permission is generally considered de facto ‘offensive’ unless the victim admits that the touching was not.
In most situations, offensive touching that doesn’t cause injury or pain is a misdemeanor.
In all states in the United States, even the lowest level misdemeanors have jail as a potential punishment, through the max that could be ordered is much less than more serious crimes.
However, if the offensive touching was committed against a spouse or romantic partner, the touching could be considered domestic violence, which carries a much higher penalty.
If the offensive touching was committed against a child, the touching could be considered a form of child abuse, which also carries a much higher penalty.
If the offensive touching was committed against an elderly person (or someone else who is vulnerable), there could be a higher penalty.
If the offensive touching was aimed at someone because of their skin color or ethnicity, it could be considered a “hate crime” and also carry a higher penalty.
In summary, slapping someone is a criminal act that could result in jail time, even if the slap wasn’t that forceful.
What Makes a Slap An Assault?
Most states have several levels of assault, some of which are misdemeanors and some of which are felonies.
Rather than criminal each specific type of conduct (punch vs kick vs slap), the seriousness of the crime is established by the result of the touching.
For example, if the slap did not cause any pain, suffering, or injury, it is less likely to be charged as an assault.
But if a slap caused pain, left a mark, caused swelling or other disfiguration, the slap is more likely to be considered an assault.
As noted above, if the slapping did not cause pain or injury, but was committed against a child in certain circumstances, an elderly person, a romantic partner, or other vulnerable person, the slapping is more likely to be considered an assault.
If the slapping was done in front of a child, it could also be considered an assault even if the slap wasn’t forceful.
What Sort Of Jail Time Could Result From Slapping Someone?
There is no cookie cutter answer to this question.
If a person was found guilty of simple misdemeanor harassment or assault, there may be no jail time at all.
The offender might be ordered to probation, community service, and a fine.
The court (and the prosecutor) will look carefully at a lot of details, such as:
- the criminal history of the defendant
- the age of the defendant
- the age of the victim and the relationship to the defendant
- whether there were any past crimes of violence committed by the defendant against the victim
- the victim’s role in the incident
- the physical injury suffered by the victim
- whether the incident was viewed by other people (such as the victim’s children)
- whether drugs or alcohol were involved or a factor
But if the offender has a history of committing the same crime, has performed poorly on probation in the past, and caused serious physical harm, probation is less likely and jail is more likely.
In the end, it just depends on the facts of the case.
What If It Wasn’t Much of a Slap?
The amount of force involved in the case is definitely relevant.
If the amount of force used was a very small amount, the prosecutor may not be willing or interested in pursuing charges against the offender.
However, “it wasn’t that hard” is not a defense against charges for an offensive touching (physical harassment) and it will not excuse the defendant’s behavior if he does get charged.
Instead, it’ll probably be more relevant in the sentencing phase.
On the Civil Side
People often forget that a harmful or offensive touching can result in claims on the civil side of things, away from the criminal side.
Slapping someone could be considered a civil assault or a civil battery, regardless of how much force was applied or how much pain or injury resulted.
Even if a prosecutor decides against filing a criminal case against someone, the victim of the slapping could pursue claims against the offender in civil court.
If you have been charged with crimes from slapping someone, or you are worried that you will be, conferring with an attorney early on is recommended.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need a lawyer or be able to afford a retained lawyer in your case, early consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your state could prevent you from making your case worse and give you guidance about what to do next.
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