What’s the Difference Between Assault and Battery in Virginia?

In Virginia, the same law criminalizes both assault and battery. However, that doesn’t mean that assault and battery are the same offense.

In Virginia, the same law criminalizes both assault and battery. However, that doesn’t mean that assault and battery are the same offense. In fact, Virginia’s laws draw important distinctions between the related crimes of assault, assault and battery, and aggravated malicious wounding.

In this article, we’ll define each of these terms. We’ll also talk about what kind of sentence a person found guilty of any of these crimes is likely to receive in Virginia.

Assault

Virginia’s legal system defines “assault” as any act which intentionally inflicts bodily harm or fear of bodily harm on another. The primary difference between assault and battery is that assault can refer to non-physical acts of intimidation. Battery, in contrast, is always a physical act.

All acts of battery also count as assault, which is why that specific crime is most commonly called “assault and battery.”

Simple Assault

Assault without battery is called “simple assault.” In order to prove a simple assault charge, the state must prove at least one of the following facts:

  • The accused attempted to intentionally inflict harm upon the victim.
  • The accused acted in such a way as to intentionally inflict the fear of harm upon the victim.

A key caveat to that second definition is that the fear has to be “reasonable.” In other words, the perpetrator must have acted in a way that would threaten most people.

Honking your car’s horn at another motorist, for example, would not inspire fear in a reasonable person, and is not simple assault. However, honking your horn at a pedestrian while rapidly driving towards them would inspire fear in most people, and therefore is simple assault.

Penalties

In most cases, simple assault is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of as much as $2,500. However, there is no minimum sentence for simple assault.

The penalties may be different if the court determines that the perpetrator selected their victim based on that individual’s race, religion, or nationality. In that case, the assault has a minimum sentence of 6 months in jail.

Protected Employees

Knowingly committing any act of assault against certain state and federal employees is a much more serious offense. These protected employees can include the following:

  • Judges
  • Police and other law enforcement officers
  • Correctional employees
  • Firefighters, including volunteer firefighters
  • Emergency medical personnel

Assaulting any of these protected employees is considered a class 6 felony. This means that the assault is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and five years in prison.

Assault and Battery

“Battery” refers to intentional offensive or harmful physical contact with another person. As mentioned earlier, any act of battery is also an act of physical assault. However, exceptions are made for valid cases of self-defense, which are not battery under Virginia law.

While “assault and battery” may seem to only apply to extreme physical acts, even smaller acts of violence can count as a crime. For example, spitting on someone, hitting someone with a frying pan, or even pushing someone in a violent manner can all count as assault and battery.

Domestic Violence

Virginia law defines any act of battery against another member of a family or household as a separate charge from regular assault and battery. This includes violence against an individual’s spouse, former spouse, or children, regardless of whether or not those individuals actually live with the accused.

Domestic violence is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, in addition to a $2,500 fine. A person charged with assault and battery can also be charged with domestic violence, effectively doubling the fines and prison time.

As an aside, if you have been a victim of domestic violence, you may petition the state for a protective order. Upon receiving such a petition, the state will immediately put an emergency protective order into place. This order lasts until the trial, and bars the accused from contacting both the victim and the victim’s immediate family.

Battery by a Prisoner

Battery by a prisoner occurs when an incarcerated individual knowingly physically attacks any of the following:

  • Jail or prison employees
  • Probation or parole officers
  • Correctional officers
  • Individuals visiting the prison

Battery by a prisoner is a class 5 felony. It is punishable by up to ten additional years in prison, as well as fine of up to $2,500.

Penalties

Like simple assault, assault and battery is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. However, battery against a person due to their race, color, religion, or nationality can have much more severe consequences.

If a person was physically injured as a result of such battery (sometimes called “hate crime assault and battery,”) the offense is a class 6 felony. This means that it is punishable by up to five years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.

Malicious Wounding

“Malicious wounding” refers to more extreme crimes of battery. While battery refers to a wide range of harmful contact, malicious wounding refers to types of contact likely to inflict extreme injury. Examples include shooting, cutting, stabbing, and the like. Strangulation is a separate charge.

If a victim of malicious wounding suffers from permanent or significant impairment, the crime becomes aggravated malicious wounding. Similarly, shooting another person with a firearm will result in additional charges of use of a firearm in committing a felony.

Penalties

Each type of malicious wounding carries different penalties. However, all forms are felonies that will result in permanent felon status for the convicted individual. Some of the penalties are outlined below:

  • Malicious wounding is a class 3 felony. It is punishable by 5 to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $100,000.
  • Aggravated malicious wounding is a class 2 felony. It is punishable by 20 years to life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $100,000.
  • Strangulation of another person is a class 6 felony. It is punishable by up to one year in jail, and a fine of up to $2,500.

In addition to the base wounding charge, you may also face charges depending on the weapon you use. For example, attacking someone with a firearm can lead to additional charges. This is itself a felony with a minimum prison term of three years.

Conclusion

The Commonwealth of Virginia treats assault, assault and battery, and malicious wounding as separate, serious crimes. Often, these crimes can overlap with other charges such as domestic violence or committing a felony with a firearm.

However, an experienced attorney may be able to convince the state to reduce your charges. By hiring the right legal counsel, you’ll increase your chances of avoiding a felony conviction and prison term.

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