WHAT IS THE REQUIRED LEVEL OF INTENT FOR A SIMPLE ASSAULT CONVICTION IN GEORGIA?
WHAT IS THE REQUIRED LEVEL OF INTENT FOR THE STATE TO PROVE IN ORDER TO CONVICT SOMEONE OF SIMPLE ASSAULT IN GEORGIA?
A recent Georgia Supreme Court case addresses what intent is required for a simple assault conviction. This was a great issue for the defendant to litigate. It was, indeed, a question that the Georgia Supreme Court needed to reevaluate.
CAN A DEFENDANT BE CONVICTED OF SIMPLE ASSAULT WHEN HE/SHE ONLY INTENDED TO COMMIT THE ACT BUT DID NOT INTEND THE HARM/INJURY CAUSED?
The answer to that question is that the State need only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit the act, not that the defendant intended to cause the injury/harm suffered.
This Court has on multiple occasions noted that the crime of simple assault as set forth in OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2), “does not require proof of specific intent. The State need only prove that the defendant possessed a ‘general intent to injure’ with the weapon. [Cit.]” Guyse, supra at 577 (2). See also Turner v. State, 281 Ga. 487, 489 (1) (b) (640 SE2d 25) (2007) (“[T]he State is not required to prove specific intent; the issue is whether defendant possessed a general intent to injure. [Cit.]”); Stoddard v. State, 272 Ga. 608, 611-612 (3) (533 SE2d 379) (2000) (“There is an intent of the accused that must be shown, but it is only the criminal intent to commit the acts which caused the victim to be reasonably apprehensive of receiving a violent injury, not any underlying intent of the accused in assaulting the victim. [Cit.]”). Accord Jackson v. State, 276 Ga. 408, 412 (2) (fn. 5) (577 SE2d 570) (2003) (overruled on other grounds, State v. Springer, 297 Ga. 376 (774 SE2d 106) (2015)); Dunagan v. State, 269 Ga. 590, 594 (2) (502 SE2d 726) (1998); Adsitt v. State, 248 Ga. 237, 240 (6) (282 SE2d 305) (1981). And, Patterson’s general intent to injure was shown by the evidence of his offensive use of the vehicle. See Johnson v. State, 289 Ga. 650, 651-652 (1) (715 SE2d 99) (2011).
Nor have our repeated statements regarding general intent under OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2) been made by happenstance. Rather, when squarely faced with a claim that a specific intent to cause apprehension is required when the defendant is alleged to have committed aggravated assault based on the victim’s reasonable apprehension of harm under OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2), this Court has squarely stated that “[a]ll that is required is that the assailant intend to commit the act which in fact places another in reasonable apprehension of injury, not a specific intent to cause such apprehension. [Cit.]” Smith v. State, 280 Ga. 490, 492 (1) (629 SE2d 816) (2006). And, this conclusion regarding the requirements of OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2) is demanded by the simple fact that no requirement of a specific intent is set forth in OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2). The statutory language is plain and unequivocal; a person who commits an act that places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a violent injury has committed simple assault under OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2). See O’Neal v. State, 288 Ga. 219, 220-221 (702 SE2d 288) (2010); Glover v. State, 272 Ga. 639, 640 (533 SE2d 374) (2000). And, this Court has previously addressed the genesis of OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2), observing in Rhodes v. State, 257 Ga. 368, 369 (4) (359 SE2d 670) (1987), that in enacting OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2) in 1968, the General Assembly effected “a substantial change … in the definition of aggravated assault, as defined in the Criminal Code.” In addressing a claim that the defendant’s act was the crime of pointing a gun or pistol at another, and not the crime of aggravated assault, Rhodes noted that before the adoption of the Criminal Code in 1968,
simple assault was defined as “an attempt to commit a violent injury on another.” Code Ann. § 26–1301 (now OCGA § 16–5–20 (a) (1)). Aggravated assault then was defined as an assault with intent to murder, rape, or rob. Code Ann. § 26–1302(a)(1) (now OCGA § 16–5–21[ (b) ](1)). There was no analog to OCGA §§ 16–5–20(a)(2) or 21[ (b) ](2). Thus, pointing a firearm at another without legal justification and without intent to murder, rape, or rob was always a misdemeanor, whether or not the victim was apprehensive of being injured. The 1968 codification included Code Ann. §§ 26–1301(a)(2) and 26–1302(a)(2), now codified as OCGA §§ 16–5–20 (a)(2) and 21[ (b) ](2), and established that the use of a deadly weapon in such manner as to place another in reasonable apprehension of immediate violent injury constitutes the felony of aggravated assault.
Id. (Emphasis supplied.) Thus, Rhodes stands for the proposition that OCGA § 16-5-20 (a) (2) means simply what it says; a person commits simple assault by committing “an act which places another in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury.”
PATTERSON v. THE STATE, No. S15G1303, 2016 WL 3886298, at *2–3 (Ga. July 14, 2016).
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