Assault and Battery

Northern Virginia Fairfax and Prince William Attorney Explains Assault and Battery

In Virginia, assault and battery refers to several different types of crimes, and if you or someone you know has been charged with an assault and battery or a related offense, a basic understanding of the law is extremely helpful. This article is intended to give readers an introduction to the topic, but always consult an attorney for questions about a specific situation, as every case is different.

If you've been charged with assault and battery, be sure to call S&R Law Firm at 703.273.6431 for a FREE consultation. Benjamin Schaefer and Ryan Rambudhan are experienced Fairfax and Prince William County attorneys who focus on these sorts of offenses. Don't be a victim; fight back!

Virginia law is pretty complex when it comes to assault and battery. First some basic definitions.

Battery

Battery is basically any offensive or harmful contact. The type of contact does not have to very serious, it only has to be offensive. Simply throwing a snowball at another person could be considered a battery in some instances, and if so, it’s a criminal act! There are some additional factors that have to be there though. To be guilty of battery, a person has to intentionally make contact with the “victim” and has to intend what they do to cause harm or offense. So, consider the following hypothetical: a guy kisses the cheek of a woman sitting next to him on the Metro. Battery? If he doesn’t know her, it probably IS a criminal battery, because almost anyone would consider that offensive and he certainly meant to do it. However, if the woman sitting next to him was his girlfriend, it probably would NOT be a battery, because most reasonable people would not find that offensive. Likewise, if the man just happened to fall into her because the train jolted suddenly, he didn’t intend to touch her, so there is no battery.

Assault

Assault in a legal sense is very different from what most people think of when they hear the word assault. Most people think assault and battery are the same, or at least pretty similar. That’s actually not the case. The legal definition of assault is “an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.” So an assault is basically making another person think you are going to offensively touch or harm them.

Common sense tells us that almost every time there is a battery, there is an assault as well, explaining why the offenses are often grouped together as “assault and battery,” even though they are actually two separate things.

Assault and Battery Statutes

Basic Assault and Battery

The basic version of assault and battery is covered under Virginia Code section 18.2-57, which says that a person who commits a simple assault or assault and battery is guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for this offense is one year in jail and $2500.

Assault and Battery – Based on Religion or Ethnicity

Virginia, like many states, has several so-called “hate crime” laws that make it a more serious crime to attack someone based on race, religion or ethnicity.

Under 18.2-57(A), if a person commits an assault and battery against someone who was selected specifically because of that person’s race, religious conviction, color or national origin, there is a minimum six-month sentence. The maximum is still one year in jail and $2500. In addition, under Virginia Code section 18.2-57(B), if the victim of this sort of offense actually suffers from bodily injury as a result of the assault and battery, they are guilty of a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Assault and Battery of Police and other Government Workers

One commonly charged offense in Virginia is assault and battery of a law enforcement officer. Since a battery is basically any unwanted touching, any time a person resists arrest it is possible that they have also committed assault and battery on the officer. Virginia law makes this a very serious offense.

Under 18.2-57(C), any assault and battery on a law enforcement officer while they are engaged in official duties is a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Even more serious, there is a minimum sentence of six months for this offense. This law also applies to other public officers such as fire fighters, emergency services personnel, correction officers, and judges.

Assault and Battery of Teachers

Virginia law gives special protection to teachers. Under 18.2-57(D), any person who commits battery of a teacher, principal, assistant principal, or guidance counselor, even where there was no injury, faces a sentence of between 15 days and one year in jail. If the assault and battery involves a weapon prohibited on school grounds, the minimum sentence is six months.

Assault and Battery of Health Care Workers

The law of Virginia gives special protection to doctors and nurses, just like teachers or police officers. Under 18.2-57(E), a person charged with battery of a health care worker faces a jail sentence of at least 15 days and up to a year. This protection only applies while they are work though, so a battery of a nurse while she is at home is the same as every other person.

Assault and Battery of a Family Member

One of the most commonly prosecuted offenses in Virginia is assault and battery of a family member (also called domestic assault and battery) under Virginia Code section 18.2-57.2. Law enforcement is often called to help deal with domestic situations. Sometimes those domestic situations have gotten physical. Since the standard for a criminal battery is basically any unwanted touching, almost every person alive has committed the offense in one form or another. Realistically though, law enforcement will usually only charge someone for assault and battery if there was an injury of some kind.

While in some ways this offense is the same as any other assault and battery, 18.2-57.2 contains some additional punishments that may apply. Where someone has been convicted previously of two similar charges within the past 20 years, this offense is a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. An emergency protective order will also be issued in these cases, prohibiting the person charged with domestic assault and battery to have any contact with the victim for three days. So in addition to arrest and a criminal charge, the person charged with assault and battery of family member is usually unable to return home for a few days.

The good news for someone charged with domestic assault and battery is that numerous defenses apply. In addition to the multiple elements of the offense that must be proven, self-defense is always a good defense to assault and battery. The law also carefully defines what a family member is, so a girlfriend or distant relative may not be considered a family member under the law. Finally, the law specifically allows for first time offender programs, under which a person must some anger management or other education, but if successful, gets to have the charge dismissed.

If you've been charged with assault and battery, whether it be against a civilian complainant or family member, be sure to call S&R Law Firm at 703.273.6431 for a FREE consultation. Benjamin Schaefer and Ryan Rambudhan are experienced Fairfax and Prince William County attorneys who focus on these sorts of offenses. Don't be a victim; fight back!