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, the Virginia Code draws an important distinction between the related crimes of assault, assault and battery, and aggravated malicious wounding.

In this article, we’ll explore each of these crimes in detail.

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 in Virginia

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.

Although assault and battery are separate crimes, Virginia law encompasses both within the same statute, and allows the same punishment for both.

Simple Assault

Assault without battery is sometimes called “simple assault.”

In order to prove a simple assault charge, the state must prove at least one of the following facts:

  • The accused threatened or attempted to intentionally inflict harm upon the victim.
  • The accused’s behavior put the victim in reasonable fear of “imminent” physical harm.

The words “imminent” and “reasonable” are important to determining what counts as assault.

“Imminent” harm is harm that is coming immediately, as opposed to in the future.

“Reasonable” fear means that the accused’s behavior would make an average person fear for their safety.

Making threats over the phone, or threatening to beat someone up in the future, would not necessarily count as assault.

However, threatening to punch someone while cracking your knuckles at them might

Battery

There are a wide variety of acts included in the definition of battery. A simple definition of battery is the act of touching someone without their consent.

Battery can be accomplished when one person physically touches another, or if they use an object.

An accused does not have to do actual harm to a victim to have committed battery – but they did have to mean to touch the victim. An accidental touch does not count as battery.

Penalties

In most cases, both battery and assault are defined as Class 1 misdemeanors in Virginia, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of as much as $2,500.

Instead of penalizing one crime over the other, Virginia law increases penalties if the victims of assault and battery are members of specific professions, or if the victim was selected because of their race, religion, or nationality.

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 a Class 6 felony.

This means that the assault is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and 5 years in prison.

Assault and Battery in Virginia

“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 considered to be 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, pushing someone in a violent manner will often count as assault and battery under Virginia law.

Domestic Violence

The Virginia Code 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 in Virginia, 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 12 months 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 5 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.

Malicious Wounding in Virginia

“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, however, is a separate charge.

If a victim of malicious wounding suffers from a 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 12 months in jail, as well as 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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