Missouri law defines assault in the third degree in a variety of ways, one of which is the following: “The person knowingly causes physical contact with another person knowing the other person will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.” Generally, third-degree assault is a misdemeanor in Missouri, unless the defendant has been convicted two previous times of third-degree assault of a family member, in which case the charge could be filed as a felony.

Two young people were recently charged with third-degree assault after two alleged incidents on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia. University police arrested a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old, claiming the teens were part of a group of people who groped two female students who were walking at night on campus.

Neither of the accused is a student at the university. The 18-year-old is a high school student, and there is reportedly no record of the 17-year-old being enrolled in Columbia Public Schools.

Another female student also reported to police that a group of men assaulted her and some friends not long before the other assaults allegedly occurred.

The circumstances of the incidents, as described in a news report, raise some questions that may have to be answered in court. For example, exactly what role, if any, did each defendant play in the alleged groping? Were the defendants correctly identified? Were the defendants’ rights violated by police at any point?

In any case, the stakes are high in assault cases, and individuals accused of assault should explore every available defense option.