In Virginia, the crimes of assault (physically threatening to hurt someone) and battery (causing injury) are usually misdemeanors.
Hate crimes, assaults against certain employees, domestic violence, and batteries by prisoners are punished more severely and may, in some circumstances, be charged as felonies. For more information on felony crimes, see Virginia Felony Assault and Battery Laws.
Injuring someone with or without the intent to kill or cause serious injury may be a felony or a misdemeanor in Virginia, depending on the circumstances. For more information on these crimes, which are usually more serious crimes than assault or battery, see Malicious and Unlawful Wounding in Virginia.
Assault and Battery
Virginia’s laws refer to the crimes of assault and assault and battery (sometimes referred to as battery).
Battery is the actual infliction of injury on another. For example, kicking someone in the face and breaking the person’s nose is battery.
A person can commit the crime of assault in two different ways in Virginia.
Assault - present ability to inflict harm. First, a person commits the crime of assault by performing an overt (physical) act intended to inflict bodily harm on the victim while having the present ability to inflict harm or injury.
Mere words cannot constitute an overt act. For example, if the defendant yelled from across the street that the victim was going to get hurt, that would not be considered assault. However, if the defendant walked toward the victim’s car while screaming that the victim was going to get hurt, and had the ability to actually hurt the victim, then that would probably constitute assault.
Assault - reasonable fear of harm. Second, a person commits the crime of assault by performing an overt act intended to place the victim in fear of bodily harm and actually placing the victim in reasonable fear of harm. It is the intentional infliction of fear, not the ability to inflict injury, that constitutes the assault in this case. For example, if the defendant walked towards the victim’s car in the dark while motioning with something that looked like a gun and the victim reasonably believed that the defendant had a gun, that would probably be considered assault, even if the defendant did not actually have a gun.
(Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-52, 18.2-57.)
Exemption for school employees
Virginia’s laws make clear that no teacher or other school employee should be charged with assault or assault and battery for using force to maintain order at school, on school property, or at a school event. (Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-57.)
Under Virginia’s laws, assaults in which the defendant selects the victim based on race, religion, color, or national origin are punished more severely.
(Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-57.)
In Virginia, assaults and assaults and batteries against certain employees are punished more severely if the defendant knows or has reason to know that the victim is a protected employee. Protected employees include:
- law enforcement officers
- correctional officers and employees
- firefighters, including volunteer firefighters, and
- emergency medical personnel.
Batteries against teachers, other school employees, and health care providers are also punished more severely if the defendant knows or has reason to know that the victim is a protected employee and the battery occurs while the victim is on the job.
(Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-57.)
Domestic violence is battery against a family or household member. Family and household members include spouses, former spouses, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, in-laws who live in the same house, people who have children together, and people who live together or have lived together in the past year.
(Va. Code Ann. §§ 16.1-228, 18.2-57.2.)
For more information, see Domestic Violence in Virginia.
Battery by Prisoners, Probationers, and Parolees
In Virginia it also crime for a prisoner in a correctional or juvenile facility, a probationer, or a parolee to cause injury to a:
- correctional officer or employee
- person supervising or working with prisoners
- person visiting a correctional facility, or
- probation or parole officer.
In order for the crime to be committed against a parole or probation officer, the prisoner must know or have reason to know the victim is performing official duties.
(Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-55.)
Simple assault and assault and battery are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Hate crimes. Hate crimes are also Class 1 misdemeanors, but the court must impose a sentence of at least six months and the defendant must serve at least 30 days in jail. If a hate crime results in bodily injury, it is a Class 6 felony; the court must impose a sentence of at least six months and the defendant must serve at least 30 days in jail. Class 6 felonies may be punished as felonies or misdemeanors, by up to one year in jail, or one to five years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.
Protected employees. Assaults against teachers are Class 1 misdemeanors, and the court must sentence the defendant to 15 days in jail, at least two of which the defendant must serve. If the defendant commits an assault against a teacher with a firearm or other weapon prohibited on school property (such as knives longer than three inches, stun guns, chains, machetes, and sling shots), then the court must sentence the defendant to six months in jail.
Assaults against other protected employees are Class 6 felonies, and the court must sentence the defendant to a minimum of six months in jail.
Domestic violence is also a Class 1 misdemeanor. A first time offender may be placed on probation. If the defendant has prior convictions for assault and battery, malicious wounding, or aggravated malicious wounding against a family or household member (in Virginia or elsewhere), then domestic violence is punishable as a Class 6 felony.
Battery by a prisoner is a Class 5 felony, punishable by one to ten years in prison, or up to one year in jail, and a fine of up to $2,500.
(Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-10, 18.2-11, 18.2-55, 18.2-57, 18.2-57.2, 18.2-57.3.)
Getting Legal Advice and Representation
A conviction for assault or assault and battery can have serious consequences, including time in jail or prison, a fine, and a criminal record. If you are charged with a crime, you should contact a Virginia criminal defense attorney who can tell you the likely outcome of the charge, based on the facts and the whether the judge and prosecutor assigned to your case are inclined to treat you harshly or be lenient. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best outcome for your case.