North Carolina Assault and Battery Laws

Learn about the possible penalties when facing charges in North Carolina for simple assault, felony assault, and assault with a deadly weapon.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 6/23/2023

Being convicted of assault and battery in North Carolina can mean anywhere from a few days to over a decade behind bars. Read on to learn the various types of assault and battery charges one can face in North Carolina and the possible penalties involved.

What Is Considered Assault and Battery in North Carolina?

North Carolina's assault-and-battery laws actually refer to three crimes—assaults, batteries, and affrays. While their definitions are slightly different, the penalties are the same. North Carolina courts have developed the following definitions of assault, battery, and affrays.

Defining Assault in N.C.

North Carolina defines assault as either:

  • an attempt to injure another by use of force or violence, or
  • an act of force or violence that places another person in reasonable fear of immediate bodily harm.

An assault requires proof that the defendant intended to cause harmful contact with another or to place them in fear of harm. Attempting to hit someone and missing is an example of assault. So is raising a fist and telling the victim, "I'm going to punch your lights out."

Defining Battery in N.C.

A battery generally involves unlawful contact with another, whether that contact is merely offensive or physically injures the victim. Examples can be anything from intentionally shoving a person to shooting them with a gun. Battery crimes can also involve unlawful contact committed other than by physical force, such as administering poison to a victim or infecting a victim with a disease.

Defining Affray in N.C.

An affray refers to a fight between two or more people in a public place that's likely to frighten others. An example might be fighting in a crowded bar where bystanders are likely to get shoved or harmed.

What Are the Charges and Penalties for Assault and Battery in North Carolina?

While legal statutes refer separately to all three crimes (assault, battery, and affray), informally, all three tend to be referred to simply as "assault."

North Carolina law has numerous assault crimes, starting with simple assault and increasing in seriousness to "assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflicting serious injuries" (AWDWIKISI).

What Factors Increase a Simple Assault Charge to Felony Assault in N.C.?

Simple assault can increase to a felony assault when one or more of the following factors apply:

  • the victim suffered injuries
  • the defendant used a deadly weapon or firearm
  • the victim has a protected legal status based on vulnerability or occupation
  • the defendant has prior convictions, or
  • the defendant intended to kill the victim.

The more factors that were involved in the crime, the harsher the resulting penalties will be.

How Much Jail or Prison Time Can a Person Face for Assault in N.C.?

Assault penalties range from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class C felony. Below are the penalties applicable to the crimes discussed in the next two sections. With the exception of Class 2 misdemeanors, the judge determines the amount of any fine imposed.

Misdemeanors. Class 2 misdemeanors carry up to 60 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Class 1 and A1 misdemeanors carry up to 120 days and 150 days in jail, respectively.

Class G, H, and I felonies have prison sentences ranging from 3 to 48 months.

Class E and F felonies carry prison sentences ranging from 1 to 7 years.

Class C and D felonies carry prison sentences of 4 to 19 years.

What Is Misdemeanor Assault in North Carolina?

Misdemeanor penalties apply to the following simple and aggravated assault crimes.

Simple Assault Charges

Simple assault, battery, or affrays are Class 2 misdemeanors unless they involve serious injuries, a deadly weapon, or a protected class of victims.

The prosecutor can bump up the charges to a Class 1 misdemeanor if the defendant assaults:

  • a sports official who's performing their duties, or
  • a person due to their race, color, religion, nationality, or ethnicity.

Class A1 misdemeanor charges apply if the victim was:

  • an individual with a disability
  • a child younger than 12
  • a female, when the defendant is an adult male
  • a pregnant woman, or
  • a government official, school employee or volunteer, public transit operator or TNC driver, or a company or campus police officer who's engaged in their duties.

Aggravated Assault and Assault With a Deadly Weapon (AWDW) Charges

Some assaults involving serious injuries or a deadly weapon may also be charged as Class A1 misdemeanors. For instance, Class A1 misdemeanor penalties apply when the defendant:

  • causes serious injuries to the victim (such as pain, loss of blood, or hospitalization)
  • points a loaded or unloaded firearm at the victim (in fun or otherwise), or
  • uses a deadly weapon (such as a firearm, knife, brass knuckles, or any item that can be used as a weapon).

Generally, when two or more of the above factors apply, the prosecutor can bump up the charges to a felony (as discussed below).

Enhanced Felony Charges for Repeat Misdemeanor Assaults

Anyone who commits a misdemeanor assault that involves pointing a gun at, or causing serious injuries to, a victim will face felony charges if they have two or more prior misdemeanor or felony assault convictions. This penalty increases to a Class H felony.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-32.1, 14.33, 14-33.2. 14.34 (2023).)

What Is Felony Assault in North Carolina?

Felony charges and penalties apply when a person inflicts serious bodily injuries to a victim, uses a deadly weapon and causes harm, intends to kill the victim, or assaults and injures persons working in protected occupations.

Assault With a Deadly Weapon, Intent to Kill, Inflicting Serious Injuries (AWDWIKISI)

The most serious assault crime in North Carolina is AWDWIKISI—a Class C felony. These charges apply when a person assaults another with a deadly weapon and:

  • intends to kill the victim, and
  • inflicts serious injuries to the victim (such as pain, loss of blood, or hospitalization).

If an assault with a deadly weapon involves only one of the above factors (intent to kill or inflicting serious injuries), the person faces Class E felony penalties.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-32 (2023).)

Assault Inflicting Serious Bodily Injuries, Strangulation

A person who assaults another and causes serious bodily injuries will face penalties for a Class F felony. "Serious bodily injuries" are injuries that create a substantial risk of death, cause extreme pain, result in prolonged hospitalization, or result in a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of a body part or organ.

Assaulting another by strangulation when physical injury results also means felony charges. This offense carries Class H felony penalties.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-32.4 (2023).)

Assault of Victim Working in a Protected Occupation

Assaulting an individual who works in one of the protected occupations listed below can result in Class I felony charges if any physical injury results. These protected occupations include:

  • emergency medical technicians, medical responders, and health providers
  • firefighters
  • hospital personnel or security
  • law enforcement, probation, and parole officers
  • detention facility employees (prisons, jails), and
  • National Guard members.

To be subject to felony penalties, the protected person must have been performing or attempting to perform their professional duties.

The penalties increase to a Class F or G felony if the person inflicts serious bodily injuries to the protected professional. Use of a deadly weapon or firearm can result in anywhere from a Class E to G felony depending on who the professional is.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-34.5, 14-34.6 (2023).)

Assault of an Individual With a Disability

North Carolina also singles out enhanced penalties for assaulting a victim who has a disability. The law provides Class F felony penalties if a person commits aggravated assault against an individual with a disability and:

  • uses a deadly weapon or other means of force likely to inflict serious injuries to the victim
  • inflicts serious injuries or damage to the victim, or
  • intends to kill the victim.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-32.1 (2023).)

Defenses to Assault Charges in North Carolina

Common defenses and defense strategies that apply in assault cases include claiming self-defense and challenging the prosecution's case.

Self-defense. A defendant may claim self-defense if the victim was the aggressor. North Carolina's self-defense law allows a person to defend against imminent harm to self or others if the person reasonably believes that the use of force was necessary. Deadly force can only be used to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm or, in limited castle doctrine cases, to prevent serious bodily harm. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-51.2, 14-51.3 (2023).)

Level of harm. Another defense strategy is to challenge the resulting harm suffered by a victim. For many assault crimes, the penalties increase along with the severity of harm. A defense attorney may argue that the victim's injuries don't rise to the level of serious injuries or serious bodily injuries.

Talk to an Attorney

If you're being investigated or charged with assault or assault and battery in North Carolina, talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you understand the criminal legal process and protect your rights. It's generally best to speak with an attorney before agreeing to talk to police or investigators.

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