A Jacksonville, Florida mother was recently arrested after an incident at Sadie Tillis Elementary School where she allegedly threw objects at the principal, broke a table and made threats to come back and shoot up the school, according to a news article on www.News4jax.com. Clearly, if true, her conduct was inappropriate and needed to be taken seriously to ensure that the children at the school were not placed at risk, but the nature of her remarks provides an opportunity to look at what elements must be present to commit the crime of assault, a term often used in everyday discussion but rarely truly defined.
The Florida crime of assault is committed when a person: 1) makes an intentional and unlawful threat by word or act, 2) to do violence to another person, 3) coupled with an apparent ability to commit the threatened act, and 4) doing some overt act that reasonably creates fear in the other person that the violence is imminent. As a result, words alone are insufficient to form the basis of an assault. There must be some corresponding act that reasonably would put another person in fear that the violence is coming fairly soon along with circumstances that indicate the person has the ability to commit the threatened act. Additionally, threats to do violence that are conditioned upon some other factor typically do not form the basis for an assault as the violence would likely not be imminent.
Looking at the facts of this reported criminal case, if the woman threw an object at the principal, that could form the basis for an assault. However, any verbal threats made, however horrible they may be, would not fit the definition of an assault unless the woman had the apparent ability to follow through with the violence and another person was in reasonable fear of being the victim of imminent violence.