A felony carries a maximum punishment of more than one year of incarceration. A misdemeanor carries a potential punishment of less than a year of incarceration. Regarding assaultive crimes, when a weapon is used, or when the accused intends to cause bodily harm to the victim, the type of assault constitutes a felony charge. Examples include felonious assault [i.e. use of a weapon or weapon-like implement], assault with the intent to inflict great bodily harm, or assault with the intent to commit murder.
Whenever a dangerous weapon is used in an assault, the crime is elevated to a felony. A dangerous weapon is defined in the Michigan Criminal Jury Instructions as:
Any object that is used in a way that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death. Some objects, such as guns or bombs, are dangerous because they are specifically designed to be dangerous. Other objects are designed for peaceful purposes but may be used as dangerous weapons. The way an object is used or intended to be used in an assault determines whether or not it is a dangerous weapon. If an object is used in a way that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death, it is a dangerous weapon.
Obvious examples of dangerous weapons include firearms, guns, revolvers, pistols, knives, and brass knuckles. Other implements have been determined by courts to constitute dangerous weapons due to the manner in which they were used in the crimes, such as broom handles, or heavy furniture such as a bar stool, etc.
Examples of misdemeanor assault include simple assault -like an unwanted but minor touching- and domestic violence. However, when a person is twice convicted of domestic violence, the third offense is charged as a felony. The force or unwanted touching can be any amount of force sufficient to harm or embarrass the other person. The contact cannot be accidental but rather, must have been intentional. A jury will be specifically instructed that physical injury is not required for an assault or battery to take place.
The criminal code also classifies assaults on groups of vulnerable persons into separate categories: child abuse, assault on a vulnerable adult -like an elderly person or an individual protected under the probate code- and ethnic intimidation. Note: the crime of stalking is classified in our criminal code as an assaultive crime.
Often, due to the nature of the evidence brought against the accused, assault charges are tested through a trial, especially when there is some evidence of self defense, or when the complainant will not make a very good witness on his or her behalf. If there is some evidence that the accused acted in self defense, the prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not act consistent with self defense; the defendant does not have any burden of evidentiary production or persuasion in this regard. Sometimes, in cases of self defense, the accused will need to take the witness stand in order to tell the jury what actually happened. In these situations, prior convictions of the accused involving theft or dishonesty are relevant and can be asked about at trial.
Whether an accused will be able to testify at the trial depends on this prior record. Sometimes, the accused is the only person available to tell the jury what occurred from the perspective of the accused. This is never a casual decision; rather one made with careful deliberation and with input from the client.
Prior assaultive convictions often affect how a person will be sentenced in subsequent convictions.
Therefore, if you, a family member or loved one are charged with an assaultive crime, contact a competent local attorney in order to thoroughly explore your options under the law.