New York’s “One Punch” Rule

Criminal law usually requires that you only intended to do the crime, and not that you are aiming for a specific result. A defendant who intentionally shoots another person with a gun and causes them to die can be charged with murder even though they intended to only scare or minorly harm them. However, certain aggravated crimes require that the defendant intended the outcome. These are called “specific intent” crimes. For example, a murder conviction requires that the defendant intended for the victim’s death.

Complex questions can arise about mental culpability in cases that fall between the two. What happens if the defendant punches someone once and causes them to fall on their heads, then die? Is it possible for a defendant to be charged with more serious charges of assault or manslaughter if an unanticipated result occurs? Continue reading to find out more about the so-called “one-punch” homicides committed in New York, and how the law handles such cases. For advice and representation, contact a New York homicide defense attorney.

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Misdemeanor Assault vs. Felony Assault

If they cause injury to another person, a defendant can be charged in the third degree with assault. A misdemeanor of third degree assault, it can be punished by up to one year in prison.

The second degree of assault can be brought against a defendant who caused “serious bodily injury” to the victim. A second-degree assault can be a more serious offense and could result in up to seven years imprisonment.

Two important factors determine the difference: (1) whether the victim sustained a serious injury and (2) whether the defendant intended cause serious physical injuries. A defendant can only be charged under New York law with a felony when they intend to seriously injure the victim or if they use a deadly weapon such as a gun.

If the prosecution can prove that the victim sustained a serious injury but not that defendant intended to inflict such injury, courts are reluctant to allow them to bring more serious charges. The “one punch” defense is what many refer to as: When a defendant is involved in an altercation, throws one or more punches with the intent to cause minor injury. However, the defendant sustains much greater injury. The defendant may slip and hit their head on the pavement, causing them to fall into a coma. As it stands now, New York law states that aggravated assault should be avoided if the prosecution can prove that the defendant intended to cause more severe harm than minor.

Manslaughter vs. Assault

Homicide is a case where intent is more important than ever. Criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony that can be brought against a defendant for causing the death of another person through criminal negligence. The defendant can also be charged with criminal recklessness if they acted in a manner that is second-degree manslaughter. This is a class C felony. The defendant can be charged with manslaughter of the first degree if they intended to inflict serious bodily injury on the victim and then “accidentally” cause their death. This is a class B felony that can lead to up to 25 years imprisonment.

What is the definition of intent for throwing one punch? According to New York law, a single punch can not be used as a basis for homicide charges. The “one punch” rule can limit misdemeanor assault charges if there was no intent to harm or minimal harm. When the victim was involved in the fight, the one punch rule may be invoked. This is similar to a barroom brawl. Even though criminal negligence is not possible, negligence presumes that the defendant knew or should have known about a danger of death. A reasonable person would not think that throwing one punch poses a danger of death.

Although there have been numerous legislative attempts to eliminate the “one-punch loophole”, none of these efforts have succeeded. A defendant who throws one punch that causes death or serious injury can only be charged with misdemeanor assault under current law. More serious charges could be brought against a prosecution if they can prove intent to cause serious injury or death.

Get the best legal help for your New York Homicide and Assault Charges

Benjamin Greenwald is a criminal defense lawyer who can help you if you are arrested for assault, murder, homicide or any other serious offenses in New York. We represent clients in Orange County and the Hudson Valley for all types of criminal offenses.