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Understanding Assault in Illinois

Joseph Angelillo, Esq. April 16, 2021

Today we’re going to be going over the topic of Assault.

Assault is most usually coupled with it’s sister crime Battery (which we will cover in another entry), and as a result is often confused between the two. I have no empirical evidence this is the case, I merely state it as a truth to make myself feel better for all of the times I’ve done it myself in Law School.

Assault is defined by Illinois Criminal Code 720 ILCS 5/12-1, which can be broken down into 3 different elements. In order for the State to obtain a guilty verdict during a trial they will need to prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

A person commits an assault when:

  1. Without lawful authority,

  2. He or she knowingly engages in conduct,

  3. Which places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery.

Assault is considered to be a Class C Misdemeanor, meaning that a guilty verdict against a Defendant for this crime can come with it a penalty of up to 30 days in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,500 plus any mandatory Court costs. Additionally, a Defendant may be placed on Court Supervision, Conditional Discharge, or Probation for up to two years after sentencing.

(1) Lawful Authority

Now lawful authority is exactly as it sounds, there needs to be some authorization for one individual to engage in conduct that would seem on its face to constitute an assault. If a police officer were to walk into a convenience store only to find that its owner is being held at gunpoint by a perpetrator, and he immediately discharges his firearm and aims it at said perpetrator, is he committing an assault? Of course, but we have legally determined that it’s necessary that an ‘assault,’ in this instance be committed. This element is very straight forward, either an individual has permission or they don’t.

(2) He or She Knowingly Engages in Conduct

Element two deals entirely with the mental state, or Mens Rea, of the Defendant. Mens Rea (“guilty mind” in Latin) can fall under four separate categories: (1) Purpose (or Intent depending on your usage of the Model Penal Code), (2) Knowledge, (3) Recklessness, and (4) Negligence.

As far as Assault is concerned, the Mens Rea of the Defendant is classified as Knowledge. That is, that the individual had known, or should have known, that a wrongful result would occur from their actions.

Lets put this into perspective, lets say that the Joker places a bomb underneath the vehicle of the Mayor of Gotham because he’s the Joker, and that’s kind of his thing. Watching the vehicle from a vantage point, the vehicle pulls up to the Mayor’s office where he and two of his aides get into the vehicle and begin to drive away. Now, Batman was on holiday in Honolulu at this time so the Joker’s plan goes off without a hitch, and the Mayor’s vehicle is turned into a three ton fireball.

Now the Joker’s Mens Rea, as far as the Mayor is concerned, would be classified as Purpose (or Intent) because he intended to kill the Mayor when he placed the bomb underneath his vehicle. But what about the aides who were also in the vehicle? That would fall under the classification of Knowledge. The Joker planted the bomb with the intent of killing the Mayor, and while he did not intend to kill the aides, he acted knowing that his actions would result in their death.

(3) Which Places Another in Reasonable Apprehension of Receiving a Battery

The third and final element now rearranges the focus away from the Defendant to the victim in question. What’s important to understand here is that whether or not a victim has a “reasonable apprehension,” of receiving a battery is treated as a question of fact. Meaning that just because a victim testifies that they were scared of the Defendant, it is not enough to satisfy this element, the Jury (or Judge) needs to look at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the supposed Assault.

Let’s say you’re in your vehicle, and as you approach a red light you see on the corner a childhood acquaintance. You have a deep seeded hatred for this individual, because when you were five years old they stole your gogurt from your packed lunch, and gogurt was your favorite childhood snack. You’re filled with this really adult and unhealthy amount of rage thinking about that day in March when you were robbed of those 42 seconds of pure innocent joy, and it was the strawberry flavor too! The last one of the pack and you were looking forward to it all while playing on the monkey bars earlier and…you get the point.

So you roll down your window and shout at this individual “Hey!” and as they turn towards you, you point your finger at them, menacingly, and yell “I’m going to get you!” and proceed to pull away while the light turns green. Two blocks down an officer pulls you over saying they saw the whole thing and arrest you for assault.

But was it really Assault? No. (Although it was tremendously psychotic.)

But why? Words on their own, without any overt action following them, do not constitute an assault; and as uncomfortable as someone may be getting yelled at over a gogurt package some 20 odd years ago, it’s not enough because there was nothing that occurred that would reasonably leave the victim to believe that they were about to suffer an immediate battery.

Let’s take a look at one more example.

Let’s say you’re pushing your grandmother along through the mall to do some shopping together. Your Grandmother is in her mid 90’s, a little frail, wheelchair bound and carries alongside her an oxygen tank. While passing through the mall on your way to purchase your mall-required Auntie Anne’s pretzel, you spot a sign that say “Mike Tyson Meet and Greet,” your Grandmother asks you to wheel her over to meet Mike Tyson. See, your Grandmother is a huge Mike Tyson fan, a fanatic really, though no one seems to understand why.

When you finally reach the front of the line, your Grandmother wheels herself over to Tyson, oxygen tank and all, leans in and says to him “You know, I had 3 grand on you to knock out Holyfield back in ’97, but you had to go and get disqualified, didn’t you? So now I’m going to knock you out!” Upon hearing this, Tyson jumps behind his security and flees the scene.

Later, your Grandmother is arrested for attempting to Assault Mike Tyson at a local mall meet n’ greet.

But is this really assault? Once again, whether or not someone has reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery is a question of fact. So lets look at the tale of the tape. In one corner your have your grandmother: Mid 90’s, frail, wheelchair bound and lugging around an oxygen tank; and in the other corner you have Mike Tyson: 5”10, Heavyweight Champion, 50-6 career boxing record, 44 wins by KO, and face tattoos. Is it really that reasonable that Mike Tyson would be placed in reasonable apprehension that your Grandmother was about to batter him? Probably not.

Remember, words alone are not enough to constitute an Assault charge, there needs to be an overt action taken while the words are spoken or immediately afterwards to leave the victim with the reasonable apprehension of an immediate battery (contact) with their person. What an overt action does look like can take many forms, and depends on the specific circumstances surrounding the case. Some examples include:

  • Approaching a police officer with raised fists – People v. Anderson, 51 Ill. App. 3d 621, 9 Ill. Dec. 389, 366 N.E.2d 900, 1977 Ill. App. LEXIS 3159 (Ill. App. Ct. 2d Dist. 1977).

  • Moving to the trunk of your vehicle after threatening an individual that you were going to shoot them – People v. Chrisopulos, 82 Ill. App. 3d 581, 37 Ill. Dec. 910, 402 N.E.2d 912, 1980 Ill. App. LEXIS 2572 (Ill. App. Ct. 2d Dist. 1980).

  • When a waitress at your favorite hole in the wall points to two men sitting at the end of the bar and tells you that if you don’t pay your tab that they’re ‘not going to like it,’ – S & F Corp. v. Daley, 59 Ill. App. 3d 1024, 17 Ill. Dec. 553, 376 N.E.2d 699, 1978 Ill. App. LEXIS 2601 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1978).

I will provide some further case law below for your reading pleasure.

As always, If you’ve been charged with Assault in the State of Illinois, call my office immediately for your free consultation.


“The act of rolling down a car window was not a threatening gesture but was obviously done to enable the arrestee to speak to the victim, and the arrestee gave no indication that he was about to attack the victim, particularly when the incident occurred in a police officer’s presence.” Kijonka v. Seitzinger, 363 F.3d 645, 648 (7th Cir. 2004)

“Words alone are insufficient to establish the offense of Assault,” People v. Ferguson, 181 Ill. App. 3d 950 (1950)

“Where defendant entered his own place of business to find an ex-employee standing at an open cash register, it was doubtful whether there was sufficient evidence to support the finding that the defendant assaulted the ex-employee considering the disparity in the size of the two men and the severity of the beating the defendant received.” Daley v. Casale, 84 Ill. App. 2d 341, 228 (1967)

“The objective standard used to establish “reasonable apprehension” does not bar consideration of facts known to the victim of the assault about the alleged assailant in determining whether the apprehension of a battery was reasonable; rather, such knowledge may be taken into consideration as part of the circumstances of the case, which are always relevant to determining reasonableness.” (In re C.L., 180 Ill. App. 3d 173, 128 Ill. Dec. 725, 534 N.E.2d 1330, 1989 Ill. App. LEXIS 193 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1989).

“It is not required that an assault victim expressly testify as to his apprehension; it is sufficient if it can be reasonably inferred from the facts that the victim was placed in reasonable apprehension.” People v. Harkey, 69 Ill. App. 3d 94, 25 Ill. Dec. 487, 386 N.E.2d 1151, 1979 Ill. App. LEXIS 2140 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist. 1979).

“Although the emotional effect upon the victim must be examined, the response must be reasonable; it is not enough that the victim feels “petrified” that the defendant is going to harm her as such feeling must have a measure of objective reasonableness.” People v. Floyd, 278 Ill. App. 3d 568, 215 Ill. Dec. 324, 663 N.E.2d 74, 1996 Ill. App. LEXIS 147 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1996).

“The element of reasonable apprehension is the traditional element of assault borrowed from the law of torts, and is therefore an objective standard; the apprehension must be one which would normally be aroused in the mind of a reasonable person.” In re C.L., 180 Ill. App. 3d 173, 128 Ill. Dec. 725, 534 N.E.2d 1330, 1989 Ill. App. LEXIS 193 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1989).

“Whether a person was reasonably apprehensive of receiving a battery is a question of fact.” People v. Holverson, 32 Ill. App. 3d 459, 336 N.E.2d 88, 1975 Ill. App. LEXIS 2996 (Ill. App. Ct. 2d Dist. 1975)