Statutory Assault

Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Assault, as a concept, is often reduced to a mere understanding of causing fear of physical harm in another. However, the realm of statutory law takes this foundational concept and molds it, adding layers that define the intensity, intent, and consequences of the act. To truly grasp the depths of “Statutory Assault,” we must venture into the nuances introduced by the Model Penal Code (MPC) and understand the varied degrees of assault articulated in modern statutes.

Degrees of Assault in the Model Penal Code

The MPC, a pioneer in redefining and categorizing offenses, classifies assault based on the severity, intent, and outcome of the act. Let’s explore these degrees:

First Degree Assault

  • Severity: This is considered the most serious form of assault.
  • Criteria: The act involves causing serious bodily harm intentionally or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. It might also cover situations where a deadly weapon is used with intent to cause, or threaten to cause, bodily harm.
  • Penalties: Given its severe nature, first-degree assault often results in hefty fines, probation, or significant jail time.

Second Degree Assault

  • Severity: Less severe than first-degree but still involves a high level of harm or risk.
  • Criteria: It encompasses acts where there’s intent to cause bodily harm, but the harm might not be as serious or life-threatening as in first-degree cases. It can also cover instances of drugging someone without their knowledge.
  • Penalties: While penalties can be severe, they are generally lesser than those for first-degree assault.

Third Degree Assault

  • Severity: This is a more general category and includes various acts that don’t fit into the first two degrees.
  • Criteria: It captures acts where someone recklessly causes bodily harm to another or negligently causes bodily harm using a deadly weapon.
  • Penalties: Being the least severe, the penalties, while impactful, are comparatively milder than the other degrees.

The Intent Behind “Degrees” in Statutory Assault

The primary reason for introducing degrees in assault is to tailor the punishment according to the crime’s severity. It ensures justice is both served and seen to be served.

By distinguishing between different degrees, the law acknowledges the vast difference between, for instance, threatening someone with harm (without any weapon) and attacking someone with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill. It aids in ensuring that the legal response is proportional to the crime.

Implications for Victims and Perpetrators

For victims, the degrees in statutory assault allow for better legal redress. A victim of a first-degree assault would, rightly so, feel that justice has not been done if their assailant received the same penalty as someone who committed a third-degree assault.

For perpetrators, understanding these degrees is essential. It emphasizes the importance of intent in legal proceedings. For instance, someone who did not intend to cause harm but did so recklessly could face different consequences than someone who acted with clear malicious intent.

A Broader Perspective: Assault in the Arkansas Code

While the Model Penal Code (MPC) offers a foundational structure for understanding assault, individual states have the discretion to adapt, modify, or elaborate on these principles based on their unique societal needs and perspectives. Arkansas is one such state with its own statutes that, while similar in many ways to the MPC, has its nuances. For those residing in or associated with Arkansas, understanding the state-specific assault codes is paramount.

Degrees of Assault in Arkansas

Arkansas law distinctly categorizes assault into various degrees, each with its criteria and consequences:

First-Degree Assault

  • Criteria: A person commits this offense if they purposely engage in conduct that creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.
  • Penalties: Being one of the most severe forms of assault, perpetrators could face significant fines and lengthy prison sentences.

Second-Degree Assault

  • Criteria: This involves recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of physical injury to another person.
  • Penalties: Those convicted of second-degree assault face fines and a possible jail sentence, although these are generally lesser than first-degree penalties.

Third-Degree Assault

  • Criteria: It encompasses instances where a person purposely creates apprehension of imminent physical injury in another individual.
  • Penalties: Given its broader nature, third-degree assault comes with fines and potential jail time, albeit less severe than the preceding degrees.

Special Considerations in Arkansas

The Arkansas Code pays particular attention to assaults against specific groups. Perpetrators might face elevated charges if their victims belong to these groups:

  1. Law Enforcement Officers: Assaulting an officer of the law, especially when they’re in the line of duty, often results in stiffer penalties due to the state’s commitment to protect those safeguarding public order.
  2. Vulnerable Individuals: Assaults against the elderly, minors, or those with disabilities can result in more severe consequences. Arkansas recognizes the inherent vulnerability of these groups and the need for added protection.
  3. Educational Settings: The state also has provisions for assaults that occur within educational institutions. These stipulations reflect the importance of maintaining safety in learning environments.

While the MPC offers a comprehensive overview of assault, the Arkansas Code underscores the importance of state-specific nuances. Arkansas, like many states, fine-tunes its assault statutes to reflect its societal values and protective priorities. Understanding these specifics not only ensures legal compliance but reinforces the shared commitment to maintaining a safe and respectful community for all.


Statutory Assault, with its nuanced degrees, reflects the legal system’s attempts to balance punitive measures with fairness, ensuring that the punishment fits the crime. While the Model Penal Code offers a foundational framework, variations exist, and it’s paramount for individuals to familiarize themselves with their specific jurisdiction’s stance on the matter.


Statutory Assault delves deeper than the traditional understanding of causing fear of harm. By incorporating varied layers, statutory law provides detailed classifications on assault’s intent, consequences, and severity. The Model Penal Code (MPC) offers a foundational structure, categorizing assault into three principal degrees:

  1. First-Degree Assault: Marked by actions causing or intending to cause serious bodily harm, possibly involving deadly weapons.
  2. Second-degree Assault: Involves intent to cause harm, albeit not as life-threatening as the first degree, and may include drugging someone unknowingly.
  3. Third-Degree Assault: This is a broader category capturing reckless or negligent actions causing harm.

The establishment of these degrees ensures that penalties align with the crime’s severity, providing justice that’s both equitable and perceived as fair.

Moving beyond the MPC, states like Arkansas have customized codes. Arkansas classifies assault similarly but adds specific nuances reflecting its societal values. Special considerations are given to assaults against law enforcement officers, vulnerable individuals like the elderly or minors, and incidents within educational settings.

Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  10/10/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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