Domestic Assault - Intent to Cause Fear Defined

There are two ways a person can be charged with domestic assault – actually causing bodily harm (i.e. punching someone) or by causing fear of immediate bodily harm. For the latter, the State must prove specific intent to cause fear of immediately bodily harm. As you can probably guess, it’s a rare case where the State can rely upon direct evidence to prove this intent to cause fear. This would essentially amount to an admission by a defendant that they did something for purposes of causing immediate fear. Where this admission is lacking, the State must rely upon circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence requires the fact-finder (either a judge or jury) to weigh all of the objective facts and circumstances, including the parties’ conduct and/or statements at the time of the act. Because circumstantial evidence is less reliable, courts exercise stricter scrutiny; the circumstances must be consistent with a defendant’s guilt and inconsistent with any other rational or reasonably hypothesis.

Demonstrating the level of scrutiny exercised, a reviewing court applies a two-step analysis when analyzing the circumstantial evidence used to prove specific intent in a domestic assault case:

  1. The court determines the circumstances proved, giving due deference to the fact-finder and construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict.
  2. The court determines whether the circumstances proved are consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any other rational or reasonable hypothesis. This analysis requires that the court look at the circumstances proved not as isolated facts but rather as a “complete chain that, in view of the evidence as a whole, leads so directly to the guilt of the defendant as to exclude . . . any reasonable inference other than guilt.” And this analysis gives no deference to the fact finder’s choice between reasonable inferences.

The State must not only demonstrate that the circumstantial evidence points to a finding of specific intent to cause fear, but also that no other reasonable inferences exist to support a finding of not guilty. Putting it simply, a case reliant upon circumstantial evidence is much more difficult for the State to prove than they wish to admit.

A domestic assault, fear based charge, wherein the State must prove specific intent to cause fear of immediate bodily harm, is a case that requires a strong and aggressive defense. The North Star attorneys have handled countless cases like this and know how to not only build a strong defense should this case go to trial, but also how to leverage the defense into a very favorable negotiated outcome in which a non-conviction outcome is obtainable. When so much is at stake, you need a team of experienced and strong domestic assault attorneys to fight for you.