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Can I Be Charged Federally for Assault?

Can I Be Charged Federally for Assault?

Being charged with assault can be scary. And understanding if it could lead to federal charges makes it even more confusing. This article will break it down in simple terms so you understand your risks and options.

What is assault?

Legally, assault is when one person intentionally threatens or actually harms someone else. There’s often confusion between assault and battery—battery is when physical contact or harm actually happens during an attack. Assault includes threats of violence or actions that make someone afraid they’ll be harmed soon.

Some examples of assault include:

  • Making verbal threats to physically hurt someone
  • Raising a fist at someone to scare them
  • Pointing a weapon at someone

Assault laws vary quite a bit state-by-state. But in general, assault is seen as a serious crime across the U.S. It often leads to fines, probation, or even jail time.

When does assault become a federal crime?

Most assault cases are tried at the state level. But there are certain situations when assault can lead to federal charges:

Assaulting certain federal employees

It’s a federal crime to assault the following people:

You can face federal charges even if the assault wasn’t related to their job. For example, attacking an off-duty FBI agent could lead to federal prosecution.

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Assault during a federally protected activity

You can also face federal charges if the assault happened when the victim was engaged in a federally protected right, such as:

  • Voting in a federal election
  • Attending public school as an enrolled student
  • Riding public transit across state borders
  • Accessing public facilities open to all races

So if you threatened someone at a polling place or harmed a student on a school bus, federal charges would be likely.

Assault in special federal jurisdictions

Assaults taking place in the below locations may lead to federal prosecution:

  • Federal buildings like courts, national parks, or military bases
  • International airports
  • National forests and federal parks
  • Native American reservations
  • U.S. territories like Puerto Rico or Guam

So if you attacked someone on federal property like a military base or post office, you could face federal assault charges.

What are the penalties for federal assault charges?

If you’re convicted of a federal assault crime, you may face:

The exact penalty depends on things like:

  • If a weapon was used during the assault
  • If the victim was injured
  • Your criminal history

But in general, federal sentences tend to be longer and harsher than state-level ones. So facing federal assault charges is extremely serious.

What’s the process for federal assault charges?

If federal agents believe you’ve committed assault, the prosecution process may include:

  1. Federal agencies like the FBI investigate the assault
  2. They present evidence to a federal prosecutor
  3. A federal grand jury decides if there’s enough evidence for indictment
  4. If indicted, you’re arrested by federal marshals
  5. Your case goes to trial in a U.S. District Court

This federal prosecution process is very complex. Having an experienced defense attorney is crucial for trying to get charges reduced or dismissed.

Are there defenses against federal assault charges?

Some potential legal defenses to federal assault charges include:


If you can show you acted in self-defense against an unprovoked attack, the charges may be dismissed. The key issues are:

  • Force was only used to prevent harm to yourself
  • You didn’t use more force than necessary
  • You weren’t the initial aggressor

But self-defense claims have limitations, especially if weapons were involved.

False accusations

If evidence shows the alleged victim is lying or mistaken about the assault, the case could get thrown out. Your attorney may investigate their background and motives, looking for proof their claims are false.

Mental illness

In some cases, assault was due to mental illness you couldn’t control. An insanity plea could lead to commitment to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison. But the bar for legally insane is extremely high.

Other defenses are possible too. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can advise if any fit your unique case.

Take federal assault charges very seriously

Being indicted federally for assault is extremely grave. The penalties, prison conditions, and prosecution tactics are severe compared to state courts.

Don’t take chances by waiting to get legal help. Speaking with a federal defense lawyer immediately gives you the best odds of avoiding harsh outcomes. They understand federal courts and the possible defenses to explore.

Every case is different. But in general, working aggressively to get federal assault charges reduced or dismissed should be the top priority. So don’t hesitate to reach out to a skilled federal criminal attorney serving your area today.


Department of Justice on Federal Assault Laws

FBI Report on Killed/Assaulted Officers

Federal Bureau of Prisons on Facilities

Department of Justice on Fines

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