Virginia's assault and battery crimes start off as misdemeanors but become felonies if the offense involves a weapon, bias, or protected classes. Read on to learn what acts constitute assault and battery and how these acts are punished under the Virginia Code.
Virginia case law provides the following definitions of assault and battery.
A person commits assault in Virginia by:
Assault crimes don't require any contact or touching of a victim.
For instance, a person who's shouting angrily at another and making threats while carrying a bat has committed assault. If that person swings the bat at a victim and misses, it's also an assault, even if the victim's back was turned and the victim was unaware of what was happening. While words alone won't support an assault conviction, they may provide evidence of intent or fear.
Virginia defines battery as an unwanted or unlawful touching of another done in a rude or angry matter either by the defendant or by an object set in motion by the defendant. Grabbing someone's face and trying to forcefully kiss them is a battery, as is spitting on them. Pushing someone or grabbing their hair or arm would constitute a battery. It's also a battery to throw or push an object at someone, such as a ball, lamp, or cart.
Neither assault nor battery offenses require physical injuries for a conviction. In some cases, bodily injuries may enhance battery penalties or support charges for malicious or unlawful bodily injuries.
(Va. Code § 18.2-57 (2023); Kelley v. Com., 822 S.E.2d 375 (Va. Ct. App. 2019).)
Simple assault and battery offenses cover a variety of scenarios, some of which come with mandatory jail sentences.
These penalties apply to the crimes of:
Mandatory minimum sentences apply in the following instances.
Hate crimes. It's considered a hate crime if a person commits assault and battery and targets the victim based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, color, or national origin. This crime carries a mandatory 6-month sentence, 30 days of which must be served in jail.
School employees. A person who commits battery against a school teacher or employee engaged in their duties faces a minimum 15-day sentence, of which 2 days must be served in jail. If the defendant used a firearm or other weapon, the mandatory minimum sentence increases to six months.
Health care provider. Committing battery against a health care provider who's performing duties in a hospital, emergency room, clinic, or other health care facility carries a mandatory minimum 15-day sentence with a minimum of 2 days to be served in jail.
(Va. Code §§ 18.2-42, 18.2-57, 18.2-57.2, 18.2-282, 18.2-282.1 (2023).)
Assault and battery offenses carry felony penalties in the following circumstances, when:
These offenses carry class 6 felony penalties of one to five years in prison or a jail sentence of one year. Most of these felonies also come with mandatory minimum sentences of at least six months.
Battery offenses committed by inmates against correctional employees are class 5 felonies if the battery results in a bodily injury. Class 5 felonies carry one to 10 years in prison or a one-year jail sentence.
(Va. Code §§ 18.2-55, 18.2-57, 18.2-57.2, 18.2-282, 18.2-282.1 (2023).)
Available defenses to assault and battery crimes depend on the circumstances of the offense. A defense attorney might raise an affirmative defense or try to poke holes in the prosecutor's case. If a prosecutor cannot prove all the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury must acquit.
Self-defense. A common defense in assault and battery crimes is self-defense. For instance, the defendant might argue that the alleged victim attacked or threatened to attack the defendant first.
Consent. In the case of battery charges, a victim's consent to the touching may be a defense (unless consent was coerced or forced).
Unreasonable fear. For assault cases, a defendant might argue that the prosecutor failed to prove that the victim's fear was reasonable. For example, the defendant might try to show a victim's reaction was overly sensitive and the average person wouldn't have reacted the same way.
Wrong defendant. It's also possible that the police got the wrong person or the victim or an eyewitness incorrectly identified the defendant as the culprit. In these cases, a defendant might need to present an alibi or other witnesses to testify that someone else committed the crime or try to discredit the eyewitness's testimony.
If you're facing assault and battery charges in Virginia, contact a local criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can explain the charges and their possible consequences, walk you through how the criminal legal system works, and zealously defend your case.