In the Commonwealth of Virginia, "assault" and "assault and battery" are serious crimes that can lead to significant penalties. Depending on the offense charged, you could be facing a misdemeanor or a felony offense. This may even include mandatory jail time or a sentence to Virginia state prison.
If you or someone you care about has been charged with assault or assault and battery in Virginia, Bryan J. Jones can provide you with the advice you need to protect your rights. You do not have to plead guilty just because you are charged with a crime.
Battery (Assault and Battery)
The charge of assault and battery often referred to only as "battery," is defined as the unlawful touching of another in a rude, angry, or insulting way. For a charge to rise to the level of assault and battery, there must be an actual touching or physical contact.
The touching does not necessarily have to be you touching another person with a part of your body. If you touch someone with an object, this will also count as a battery. For example:
- Hitting someone with a stick,
- Throwing an object at another person,
- Sending a dog to attack someone, or
- Dropping an object on top of someone.
The contact does not have to be serious or even cause physical injury. It only has to be "offensive." Offensive means that a reasonable person would be upset, bothered, or insulted by the physical contact. The act of the defendant must be intentional, i.e. the contact cannot be accidental for an assault and battery charge to apply.
Example: Carrie is riding a city bus when the bus hits a pothole. She stumbles into Ruth, knocking her over. There is contact and Ruth may even have found the contact offensive. However, because the contact was not intentional Carrie should not be guilty of assault and battery.
Example: Carrie is riding a city bus and wants the seat that Ruth is sitting in. Ruth refuses to move, so Carrie pours a cup of soda on Carrie's lap. Ruth may be charged with assault and battery.
Assault (Simple Assault)
The crime of assault, often charged as "simple assault," is a separate criminal offense from assault and battery, despite the fact that they are both written in the law at Va. Code Ann. § 18-2-57. The legal definition of an assault is "an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact."
Assault is a threat to carry out a battery, without ever making physical contact with another. The victim must fear that harm is imminent, or about to immediately occur. If the threat was over social media, the defendant would not be guilty of assault, although such a threat would likely constitute a separate criminal offense.
Penalties for Assault and Battery and Simple Assault
Both assault and battery and simple assault are Class 1 misdemeanors. If convicted of either offense you face:
- A maximum possible jail sentence of 12 months (1 year);
- A maximum possible fine of $2,500.
Assault and Battery or Simple Assault Based on Religion or Ethnicity
Under the statute, the crime of assault or assault and battery is more serious if a person attacks someone because of their race, religion, or ethnicity. If you are charged with assaulting someone because of their race, religion, or ethnicity, you face:
- A mandatory minimum jail sentence of 30 days and a maximum sentence of up to 5 years.
- Up to a maximum fine of $2,500.
You also face being labeled a felon and you could be required to serve your sentence in state prison. This could greatly impact your ability to gain and keep employment.
Assault and Battery or Simple Assault on Other Protected Groups
If you commit one of the two crimes against certain protected groups under the law, you face increased penalties.
If you commit an assault or battery against a law enforcement officer, you face a Class 6 felony conviction and:
- A minimum of six months and a maximum of five years in prison
- A maximum fine of $2,500.
Teachers or Health Care Workers
If the assault is against a teacher or healthcare worker while in the course of their employment, you face:
- A minimum of 15 days in jail and a maximum of up to one year
Protected Group Such As:
Protected groups such as judges, correctional officers, firefighters, rescue squad members, and others carry felony charges with a possibly lengthy mandatory prison sentence.
Defenses to Your Charges
While every case is different, and different defenses may apply to your case, your Virginia criminal attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case to present the best defense. Some of the following could be used to prevent or reduce your conviction.
Present Reasonable Doubt
The Virginia prosecutor is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every element of the charge of assault or battery. Your criminal defense attorney can show that there are inconsistencies in the prosecutor's case, creating doubt in the mind of the jury.
Reasonableness of Contact
Not all contact the supposed "victim" finds offensive would be offensive to a "reasonable" person.
Example: A man is blocking access to a doorway but doesn't realize you are there because he is wearing headphones. You gently tap his shoulder twice to get his attention and ask him politely to move. The man finds the contact offensive. Technically this could meet each of the elements of assault and battery, but a reasonable person would not likely be offended by that kind of contact. If it is not reasonable to be offended by the type of contact, it may not be considered criminal touching.
The Contact was Not Intentional
If the contact was an accident, this is a defense to the crimes of assault and battery.
If you use an affirmative defense, you are admitting to the underlying offense, but you are arguing that the assault or battery was justified. This typically occurs with self-defense or defense of another. If you reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary to prevent your or another's death, sexual assault, or serious bodily harm the defense may apply to you.
Satisfaction and Discharge
If the accused and the alleged victim come to a financial agreement to resolve the case, the charge can possibly be dismissed. It requires a writing from the alleged victim which acknowledges the payment of money. Use of this defense can be tricky, but an experienced Virginia attorney can help.
Consult Your Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney
A conviction for simple assault or assault and battery has serious consequences which can greatly affect your life. Even if the police and prosecutor treat you like you are guilty, you still have legal rights and defenses.
Contact Virginia criminal defense attorney Bryan J. Jones to help you fight criminal assault charges in Virginia.