This morning, on Law Stack exchange there was an item by someone which included the following comment:

A police officer detains you by issuing a command of some sort. For example, "Stop, stay here." If a citizen issues you the same command, and a "reasonable person" would consider it backed up with the same threat of force as that implied by the police, then the citizen has committed assault. If the citizen has merely obstructed your path without threatening you then they have definitely not committed assault.

Source: What power do I have as a driver if my interstate route is blocked by a protest?

Firstly, is this true in the United States? Secondly, is it true in the UK? I found this interesting summary but I don't think it quite covers the statement above.

At common law, an "assault" consists of placing someone in fear of an unwanted touching

Source: https://law.stackexchange.com/a/1226/9845

Would, for example, a stranger shouting demands at you in order to attempt to obtain compliance with those demands count as assault within the UK?

  • A threat and a demand are not necessarily the same thing. If someone says, "do my taxes for me" and nobody complies, there probably isn't a "threat". If someone says "give me your beer or I'll slap you" (in a manner that conveys a credible intent to do so) probably yes, although it might become robbery or extortion.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 16:33
  • Also, just to be clear, I don't believe that there is a uniform criminal code that applies to all of the U.K. My understanding is that Scotland and N. Ireland have separate criminal codes from England and Wales, although all are likely to reach the same result in this scenario. Likewise, the definition of simple assault generally depends upon state law and is not uniform in the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 16:36
  • The word "assault" means different things in different locations. The same action may be called assault in one place but not another. But the same action most likely is about the same severity of crime in different places, just called differently.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 16:42
  • In the UK it is vital to differentiate between Common Law assault under civil law and common assault under the Criminal Law. The former is where a person sues as the plaintiff, filing an action against the defendant. The civil court can only award damages (money) whereas in the case of a criminal prosecution, the criminal court will impose a fine and/or a term of imprisonment if the accused is found guilty. Moreover, what constitutes an assault in civil law does not correspond with an assault under criminal law. Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


Yes, in both the U.K. and U.S. assault is a crime, though in many jurisdictions it is only a summary offence in its common form.

The key element of assault is the creation of an apprehension of immediate use of unlawful violence against the victim by the perpetrator.

So, for example, if an unarmed person on the other side of an insurmountable barricade shouts threats of immediate violence, they cannot be guilty of assault. (Though they may be guilty of terroristic threats, disturbing the peace, etc.).

However, if a looming person says, "Stop, or else," and a reasonable person would interpret that as threat of imminent battery for failure to comply with the unlawful demand, then that meets the standard definition of assault.

  • 1
    Worth noting that the threat of lawful violence such as when conducting an arrest (for a police officer or normal citizen) or as a prelude to self defence is legal
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 19:19

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