Assault and Battery: Understand the Crime and Potential Defenses in Virginia

In recent years, law enforcement in Northern Virginia has stepped up investigation of assault offenses, including domestic assault and battery cases, and the Commonwealth of Virginia has increased penalties for assault convictions.

Given the seriousness of assault & battery crimes, anyone charged with any form of assault or battery (under Va. Code 18.2-57 or 18.2-57.2) needs to consult with a lawyer with strong experience in such cases. The loss of freedom and other consequences from such a conviction can be significant. Given what's at stake, you must be sure that any attorney you hire has the judgment, skill, and reputation to obtain the best possible resolution of the matter.

The legal experts at Manikas Law, LLC ensure the charges against you are fully examined and that all evidence is obtained and marshaled in your favor. In these cases, witness testimony is crucial. Witness accounts and evidence from third parties that can aid in your defense must be obtained before such evidence is destroyed or lost, or memories fade.

While there are many defense lawyers, only a handful of them have the skills and trial experience to handle your case. Who you hire could be one of the most important life decisions you make.

Domestic Assault and Battery

A domestic assault and battery can only be committed against a "family or household member." This is defined to include a spouse, former spouse, parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, siblings (brothers or sisters), half-siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, in-laws that reside with the accused, a person who cohabits (lives) with the accused or did within the past 12 months, and any children of either of them living with the accused. If a domestic assault and battery is charged and the victim is someone other than the type of person specified by the statute, then the charge is improper.

Penalties for Domestic Assault and Battery (Va. Code 18.2-57.2)

A first offense domestic assault and battery is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. However, it is possible in certain circumstances to obtain a deferred disposition under Va. Code 18.2-57.3 for a first offense domestic battery (not available for regular assault and battery). This is normally a matter of negotiation between a defense attorney and a prosecutor. If the assault is particularly bad, the prosecutor will not likely be willing to agree to such a resolution. However, the judge may still be willing to order such a disposition if the proper sentencing argument is made.

A third offense committed within 20 years is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Additionally, a guilty plea or conviction in a domestic assault and/or battery matter can adversely affect child support or child custody orders, and also have immigration consequences.

Assault and Battery on a Police Officer or Firefighter

An assault and battery committed on a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or a firefighter elevates the offense from a regular Class 1 misdemeanor assault and battery to a felony offense. Specifically, this type of assault and battery is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to five years in prison, with a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months. This mandatory minimum sentence cannot be suspended by the judge and 100 percent of the mandatory minimum sentence must be served if one is convicted of this form of assault and battery. However, the sentence can be much longer than the six-month mandatory minimum.

In order to secure a conviction for assaulting a police officer, correctional officer, or firefighter, the prosecutor must prove a regular assault; that the victim was a police officer, correctional officer, or firefighter; and that the accused knew or had reason to know of this fact. However, it must be noted that someone who is being unlawfully arrested has the legal right to resist, and the Virginia Code preserves this right. Similarly, someone who is being lawfully arrested with excessive force has the right to resist. These factors must be explored as possible defenses to charges of assaulting a police officer, sheriff deputy, or state trooper.

Other Assault and Battery Offenses

Virginia law defines other types of specific assault and battery cases, including:

  • Disorderly Conduct (Va. Code 18.2-415):  Disorderly conduct is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Disorderly conduct is committed if someone "engages in conduct having a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, such conduct is directed." The charge is often accompanied by a charge of Drunk in Public or "DIP."
     
  • Assault and Battery on a School Teacher (Va. Code 18.2-57): Assault and battery on a school teacher is similar to regular assault and battery, but if the victim is a teacher and the accused knows this or has reason to know this, the penalty is enhanced to include a 15-day mandatory minimum jail sentence. If a weapon is used, there is a six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence. However, the offense remains a Class 1 misdemeanor.
     
  • Assault & Battery by Mob (Va. Code 18.2-42): Any and every person composing a mob which commits a simple assault or an assault and battery is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. It's important to note that to be convicted of this crime, someone need not actually be the one that committed the assault and battery—it's only necessary that the accused "assembled for the purpose and with the intention of committing an assault or a battery."
     
  • Acts of Violence by Mob (Va. Code 18.2-42.1): This is an offense similar to assault and battery by mob and provides that any and every person composing a mob which commits an act of violence (as defined in Va. Code 19.2-297.1) is guilty of that act of violence and, upon conviction, shall be punished as provided in the section which makes that act of violence unlawful. Therefore, there is a range of punishment for this crime as it can be both a felony and a misdemeanor.
     
  • Assault and Battery on a Probation/Parole Officer (Va. Code 18.2-57): Any assault and battery on a probation or parole officer while such person is in the performance of their duties is a felony.
     
  • Reckless Endangerment (Va. Code 18.2-51.3): This offense is a Class 6 felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Reckless endangerment, which is similar to an attempted battery, occurs when a person throws an object off a building more than one story off the ground with the intent to cause injury. There is no requirement that an injury actually occur.
     
  • Assault by Firearm (Va. Code 18.2-282): This crime occurs when someone brandishes, points, holds, or takes other action that induces fear with a firearm or an object that appears to be a firearm. This crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail, unless it occurs within 1,000 feet of a school, then it's a Class 6 felony punishable by up five years in prison.
     
  • Hazing a Student (VA. Code 18.2-56): Hazing is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail. The statute provides that, "'hazing' means to recklessly or intentionally endanger the health or safety of a student or students or to inflict bodily injury on a student or students in connection with or for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a club, organization, association, fraternity, sorority, or student body regardless of whether the student or students so endangered or injured participated voluntarily in the relevant activity."

If you are charged with any of these offenses, then a strong defense is important.

Assault and Battery Defenses

There are several defenses to assault and battery charges. For example, it is not an assault or battery if the touching was consensual or if the person accused of assault and battery has public authority (such as the public authority of a police officer to make a lawful arrest).

The most common defense against assault and battery is self-defense. A person exercising self-defense may use force in an amount reasonably consistent with the force that's being applied or threatened. One can exercise this force to defend himself or other people.

However, the amount of force used in self-defense must be in proportion to the level of the threat or assault being defended against. Furthermore, one can use reasonable force to recover or defend property. However, the use of deadly force is never permissible to defend or recover property. Also, it's important to note that provocation by words alone, no matter how insulting, will not justify a battery.

Contact an Experienced Legal Team

If you've been charged with assault and battery in Fairfax County, Prince William County, Arlington County, Loudoun County, Alexandria, or elsewhere in Northern Virginia, it's crucial to seek representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are effectively protected.  Please contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at Manikas Law, LLC today to schedule an initial meeting.