Virginia Criminal Attorney is a first-rate law firm serving clients in and around Fairfax, VA and Northern Virginia. Our attorneys are seasoned in Virginia Criminal Law and will help you in any cases involving Assault and Battery.
Definition of Assault and Battery Under Virginia Law
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-57, assault and battery have distinct legal notions with definite elements. However, they are both classified as Class 1 misdemeanors and their penalties are outlined in the same statute.
Assault is an intentional, offensive, or harmful act that may cause reasonable anxiety or fear of expected injury. It includes intimidation by non-physical acts that cause fear in another person. You will be charged with assault if you have the ability to inflict injury or bodily harm, and you intentionally and physically act to inflict the same. You may also be charged with assault if you intentionally act in a manner that places another person in reasonable fear of harm. You can, therefore, be charged with assault even without physically injuring the victim.
You will be charged with battery if you intentionally contact another person physically, in an offensive or harmful manner without their consent, justification, or legal basis. Battery also includes touching a person with an object after setting the object in motion. To be considered as a battery, the contact must be offensive and intended to cause harm, but not necessarily serious.
Types of Assault and Battery and the Possible Penalties
In Virginia, the type of assault and battery offense you will either be charged with may be considered a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the gravity of the offense and other specific facts of your case. Penalties for assault and battery range from fines to incarceration depending on the context of your case, your criminal history, and the magnitude of the crime. If you are a first time offender, you may receive more leniency than if you have a previous conviction. Similarly, felonies carry stiffer penalties than misdemeanors. The actual penalties will be determined by the identity of the victim, whether the assault was because of religion, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation, and the severity of the injuries caused.
- Simple Assault
You will be charged with simple assault if you intentionally attempt to cause bodily injury to somebody or intentionally act in a way that causes the fear of harm in the person. The fear must be reasonable in that most people would feel threatened by the action. It is classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,500. However, it has no minimum sentence. If the assault also involves harmful or offensive contact, you will be charged with assault and battery which is also a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties are similar to those of simple assault.
- Domestic Assault
Under Virginia law, battery against a family or household member is a referred to as domestic assault and is a separate offense from regular assault and battery. It includes battery of a current or a former spouse, parent, sibling or child, regardless of whether you live with them or not. A member of your household is anybody who you have been living with for a period of more than one year. Domestic assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2500. You can be charged with domestic violence in addition to assault and battery, which effectively doubles prison time and fines.
Often, for your first domestic violence charge, you may get probation instead of the maximum sentence except if the offense was especially grievous. However, if you have a conviction of assault, assault and battery, or domestic violence in the past twenty years, you will be charged with a Class 6 felony. The penalties include a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine not exceeding $2,500.
- Unlawful Wounding
Some acts of malicious wounding are related to assault and battery but are classified as felonies. In case you injure a person by shooting, stabbing, cutting or in any other manner, with the intent to disfigure, disable, maim, or kill, you will be charged with unlawful wounding under Virginia Code § 18.2-51. This statute eliminates the requirement of acting with malice. For the offense to qualify as unlawful wounding, a gun must have been used or the victim’s skin must be broken. Unlawful wounding is a Class 6 felony, with an attached prison sentence of one to five years and a maximum fine of $2,500. If you shot the victim, you may also face additional charges associated with unlawful use of a firearm
- Malicious Wounding
Malicious wounding is a form of battery that is likely to cause extreme injuries such as cutting, stabbing, or shooting. If you purposefully and intentionally caused extreme injury, you are deemed to have acted with malice and you will be charged with malicious wounding. It is a Class 3 felony, and you will face a sentence of 5 to 20 years in prison and a fine of not more than $100,000. Although strangulation can cause extreme injury, it is charged separately as a Class 6 felony, and penalized with up to one-year jail time and a maximum fine of $2,500.
If your victim suffers a miscarriage or either significant or permanent physical disability, you will be charged with aggravated malicious wounding, which is a Class 2 felony. The penalty is 20 years to life in prison and a fine not exceeding $100,000. Generally, the severity of the punishment is proportional to the significance of the injury. If you used a firearm, you could face additional charges of committing a felony using a firearm, which attracts a three-year minimum prison term.
- Enhanced Penalties
There are enhanced penalties for assault and battery against some specific groups of people. Under Virginia “hate crime” laws, if you are charged with assault and battery of a person based on religion, natural origin, color, or race, you will receive a jail sentence of minimum six months and a maximum sentence of one year (with a mandatory 30 days) and $2,500 in fines. If the victim suffers bodily injury, you will be charged with a Class 6 felony whose penalty is a prison term of up to five years.
Assault and battery of protected personnel on official duty is a Class 6 felony with a possible one to five years in prison, and a six-month mandatory sentence. Such personnel includes firefighters and EMT personnel, judges and magistrates, law enforcement officers, and correctional officers. You may receive five to thirty years in prison with a mandatory two years for malicious injury to such personnel. However, the judge or jury may use their discretion to treat the offense as a Class 1 misdemeanor. If you are incarcerated and attack prison or jail employees, parole or probation officers, or visitors, you will be charged with battery by a prisoner, which is a Class 5 felony. The penalty is an additional ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500
Virginia law also protects public school principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors, and teachers while on duty. This Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by a minimum of 15 days and up to one year in jail (with a mandatory two day) and/or a fine of $2500. If you use a weapon that is prohibited in school grounds, you will serve a minimum of six months in jail. This same protection is accorded to health workers on duty at emergency medical care facilities.
In addition to jail or prison sentences and fines, if you are convicted of any type of assault and battery, you may face other consequences. They include probation, court orders prohibiting contact with the victim, anger management sessions, and a permanent criminal record.
Assault and battery comprise of the threat of bodily injury and unlawful contact. All forms of battery also count as physical assault. Since the two offenses are interlinked and are penalized under one statute, committing only one of them can result in a charge of assault and battery against you. These offenses are not limited to extreme physical actions but can extend to smaller acts of cruelty.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove for an Assault and Battery Conviction
In Virginia, assault and battery are usually charged under the same statute. However, their different definitions necessitate diverse ways of proving them. To convict you of simple assault, the prosecutor must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the prosecutor must prove that you intentionally acted to create fear or danger. Though it is impossible to accidentally assault another person, the prosecutor must prove that your actions were deliberate. Moreover, if you act in a manner that may be threatening to other people, you could be charged with assault even when you didn’t intend to harm a particular person. Additionally, if you intend to frighten or scare another person, this intent can be used as evidence against you.
The prosecutor must also prove that the victim reasonably believed that your actions would cause them harm. It must be an observable or clear act that would cause any reasonable person to fear for their well-being. Also, there must be evidence that you had the ability to cause immediate harm. Future threats and words alone cannot constitute assault except if you follow up with an action that inflicts practicable fear of imminent danger on the victim.
The prosecutor must prove that your action is either offensive or harmful and that it presented a physical threat to the victim. In an assault case, contact is not necessary. However, the prosecutor requires a criminal act to convict you of assault. Displaying signs of readiness to attack or hurling an object towards the victim constitute assault. For you to be found guilty of assault, most attention is given to the elements of harmful or offensive and intent.
To successfully prosecute a case of battery, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the physical contact was intentional, harmful, or offensive and the victim gave no consent. Although the intent is always present, it is not a prerequisite in a battery case. You only need the intent to cause contact with a person. Furthermore, if you act in a negligent or criminally reckless manner that causes such contact, it may be considered as a battery. Therefore, if you accidentally bump into somebody, it cannot constitute battery regardless of how offensive the victim might consider it to be.
For battery charges to be sustained in court, the elements to be proved are; intentional, harmful or offensive, physical contact, without the consent of the victim, using your body or another object. If the contact was unintentional or unavoidable, you cannot be charged with battery. For you to be charged with battery, your victim does not necessarily have to be injured or harmed. If the contact is offensive from an ordinary person’s perspective, then it constitutes battery. The critical element in a battery charge is criminal intent.
Depending on the gravity of injuries on the victim, you may be charged with unlawful wounding, malicious wounding, or aggravated malicious wounding. To prove malicious wounding, the prosecutor must prove that you acted with malice. Malice is deliberately and purposefully committing a cruel act with little or no provocation. The use of any weapon that is likely to inflict significant harm or death is also presumed to be malice. For a conviction of aggravated malicious wounding, the elements of severe injury and permanent physical impairment must be proven.
If you are charged with assault as a hate crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving that you deliberately chose the victim precisely because they belong to a defined group. To sustain a charge against you for assault and battery of protected personnel, the prosecutor must prove that when the supposed offense occurred, you knew that the injured person was a protected public servant and was performing official duties.
Common Defenses in Assault and Battery Cases
Your defense against assault and battery will depend on the specific circumstances and facts of your case. Regardless of whether your case is complex or straightforward, there are some basic elements that must be present for a successful conviction. If any of the elements is not satisfied, then charges against you cannot be sustained. In addition, the differences in definitions and specific elements of assault and battery can provide loopholes to your advantage.
To be successfully convicted of assault, you must have intent, act overtly, have the ability to inflict harm and provide a reason for the victim to fear. For a battery, you must willfully cause contact in a manner that is rude, angry, vengeful or insulting. If one of these elements is not proven, you cannot be convicted of assault and battery.
Self-defense is another common argument in assault and battery cases. To establish a plea of self-defense, you must show a threat of harm or unlawful force against you, reasonable basis for perceived fear of harm, no provocation or harm on your part, and absence of a practical chance of avoiding the situation. You could also use the victim’s past record of violence in your defense. However, self-defense has some limitations. The force applied in self-defense must be proportional to the threat. In addition, if the victim is no match for you physically due to age or size, you may be convicted of assault and battery. Defense of others is similar to self-defense except that you have actual, perceived apprehension of injury to another person. You must show reasonable grounds for your perceived fear to prove this defense. Defense of others has the same limitations as self-defense.
It is also possible to use consent as a defense. If the person voluntarily consented to a particular act, then that act cannot be declared to be assault and battery. However, if the act goes beyond the permission, it can provide grounds for assault and battery charges. Courts scrutinize consent closely and any harmful actions will still be punished under applicable laws since they violate public policy.
Accord and satisfaction can also be used in your defense. Under Virginia Code §19.2-151, you may enter into a written agreement with the victim to have the charges dismissed. It usually involves financial compensation for damages and allows your existing criminal charges to be expunged from your record. However, this privilege is not available if you are charged with assault and battery against a family or a household member, or a law enforcement officer.
You may also use the definition of family members under the law to your advantage. Your girlfriend or boyfriend, and distant relatives are not considered family members under the assault and battery statutes. This argument automatically reduces the charges from the more serious domestic assault and battery to regular assault and battery.
Contact an Attorney for Assault and Battery Near Me
Regardless of whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for assault and battery, a conviction can result in an irreversible criminal record, incarceration, and hefty fines. If you live in or around Fairfax and Northern Virginia, you can contact Virginia Criminal Attorney at 703-718-5533 to help you in defending the charges. We have the expertise to navigate the legal system and help you receive a better result on your Assault and Battery case. Call our criminal lawyer for a free consultation today.