Answer: Maybe. It depends on the circumstances of the situation and whether the owner of the phone was touched or harmed.
In the article that follows, you’ll learn more about what qualifies as an assault and how an individual could still go to jail for smashing someone else’s phone even if the phone’s owner wasn’t touched.
Is Smashing Someone’s Phone Assault? (Explained)
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Introduction To Person Crimes
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, phone in their hand, 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.
Destruction of Property Crimes
Destruction of someone else’s property without their permission is against the law.
Smashing someone else’s phone may be charged as “criminal mischief,” the seriousness of which is set by the value of the item damaged.
Smashing someone’s phone could also be charged as a theft as well as disorderly conduct.
Depending on the value of the item smashed, the charges could be a misdemeanor or a felony theft.
If the phone smashing was done in order to prevent the owner from calling 9-1-1, additional charges could be filed.
What Makes a Phone Smashing an Assault?
The primary element that would change a phone smashing from a property crime into a person crime is the interaction with the individual to get the phone.
If the owner of the phone was touched while taking the phone in a harmful or offensive way, the incident could rise to the level of an assault.
If the owner of the phone with hit or harmed by the phone smashing or any debris from the smashed phone, the incident could be elevated to an assault.
If the owner of the phone was forced to hand over the phone with threats of imminent bodily harm, or physical movements making the owner fear that she was about to be harmed, the phone smashing could be elevated to a person crime.
However, if the offender just picked up the phone and smashed it on the ground without any additional interaction with the phone’s owner, assault charges seem really unlikely.
What Sort Of Jail Time Could Result From Smashing a Phone?
There is no cookie cutter answer to this question.
If a person was found guilty of simple misdemeanor harassment or theft, 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
- the value of the property damaged
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.
On the Civil Side
People often forget that threats of harm, theft, and offensive touching can result in claims on the civil side of things, away from the criminal side.
Smashing someone’s phone could be considered a civil assault or a civil battery depending on the circumstances, 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 incident could pursue claims against the offender in civil court.
If you have been charged with crimes from smashing someone’s phone, 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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