Virginia Assault and Battery Laws

Learn how Virginia defines and punishes assault, battery, and malicious wounding crimes.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 1/03/2024

Virginia's assault and battery crimes start as misdemeanors but become felonies if the offense involves a weapon, bias, or protected classes. Acts that become more violent generally fall under the state's malicious or unlawful woundings law.

Read on to learn what acts constitute assault and battery, what acts are considered malicious or unlawful woundings, and how these acts are punished under the Virginia Code.

Assault and Battery Crimes in Virginia

Virginia case law provides the following definitions of assault and battery.

Assault Charges in Virginia

A person commits assault in Virginia by:

  • doing some outright act intending to cause another bodily harm and having the apparent ability to cause that harm, or
  • doing some outright act intending to place another in fear of bodily harm and causing that fear in the victim.

    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.

    Battery Charges in Virginia

    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.

    No Injuries Required for Assault or Battery

    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 wounding. (More on malicious and unlawful woundings below.)

    (Va. Code § 18.2-57 (2024); Kelley v. Com., 822 S.E.2d 375 (Va. Ct. App. 2019).)

    What Are the Penalties for Simple Assault and Battery in Virginia?

    Simple assault and battery offenses cover a variety of scenarios, some of which come with mandatory jail sentences.

    Penalties for Simple Assault and Battery in VA

    Most simple assault and battery crimes carry class 1 misdemeanor penalties in Virginia.

    These penalties apply to the crimes of:

    A person convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor faces up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

    Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Protected Victims

    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 (2024).)

    What Are the Penalties for Felony Assault and Battery in Virginia?

    Assault and battery offenses carry felony penalties in the following circumstances, when:

    • the offense is a hate crime resulting in injuries
    • the defendant commits assault by firearm or weapon (brandishing) near or on school grounds
    • a defendant commits repeated offenses of assault and battery against a family or household member, or
    • the defendant commits the offense knowing the victim is a law enforcement officer, firefighter, correctional employee, or judge.

    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 (2024).)

    Malicious and Unlawful Wounding Crimes in Virginia

    Virginia law also makes it a crime for a person to intentionally wound or cause bodily injury to another person with the intent to maim, disable, disfigure, or kill them.

    What Is Malicious or Unlawful Wounding?

    Malicious or unlawful wounding can occur when someone stabs, shoots, cuts, wounds, or otherwise causes bodily injuries to another. Wounding requires that the offender breaks the victim's skin with a weapon. Bodily injury, on the other hand, has no such requirements.

    Committing the act with or without malice is the only difference between unlawful and malicious wounding. Acting with malice means to intentionally or purposely commit a wrong or cruel act. Some court cases describe malice as deliberately harming someone unprovoked.

    Oftentimes, both malice and intent to maim can be inferred based on the circumstances of the offense. For example, beating someone up because the person touched your car would probably be considered acting maliciously. If the victim suffered very serious injuries, such as multiple broken bones, a court or jury would probably find the intent to kill or maim.

    What Are the Penalties for Malicious or Unlawful Wounding?

    Both malicious and unlawful wounding are felony offenses. Penalties for malicious wounding may increase depending on the nature and gravity of the offense, as well as the circumstances surrounding it. For instance, stiffer penalties may be imposed in cases where the victim falls within a certain group of people or the offender uses certain types of weapons.

    A person convicted of unlawful wounding faces a Class 6 felony, which carries one to five years in prison or one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The penalty for malicious wounding, without any aggravating circumstances or special factors, is a Class 3 felony, punishable by a $100,000 fine and 5 to 20 years in prison. When additional factors are involved, a person can face mandatory minimum prison terms or enhanced penalties that go up to 30 years or life in prison.

    (Va. Code §§ 18.2-10, 18.2-51, 18.2-51.1, 18.2-51.2, 18.2-52, 18.2-53 (2024).)

    Defenses to Assault, Battery, and Malicious Wounding Charges in Virginia

    Available defenses to assault and battery and malicious wounding 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.

    Actual Innocence

    Defendants charged with assault, battery, or malicious wounding have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur." It's 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.


    A common defense in assault and battery or malicious wounding crimes is self-defense. For instance, the defendant might argue that the alleged victim attacked or threatened to attack the defendant first.

    No Malicious Intent

    Malicious wounding requires that the defendant maliciously and intentionally cause the necessary harm. If the prosecutor is unable to establish the defendant acted with malice when engaging in unlawful conduct, the defendant is not guilty of malicious wounding. They can still be guilty of a lesser offense, such as unlawful wounding, strangulation, battery, or assault, depending on the circumstances and nature of the offense.


    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 by Victim

    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.

    Contact a Lawyer

    If you're facing assault and battery charges or malicious or unlawful wounding 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.

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