Being charged with felony assault in Virginia is a serious matter with potential lifelong consequences if the individual pleads guilty or is convicted. But how do assault charges work in Virginia and what are your chances of challenging the prosecution to get your charges reduced or dropped? The legal team at the Law Office of Seth C. Weston provides an overview of Virginia felony assault laws and goes over possible defense strategies that can be used to help your case reach a more positive outcome.
What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?
Assault and battery are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Assault and battery are separate offenses that often happen together. An assault occurs when there is an overt threatening act that leads a victim to believe they are in imminent danger of suffering physical harm. An offender can be charged with assault without ever touching or causing physical harm to a victim, simply acting in a way that makes the victim believe they are in danger is enough for an assault charge.
Unfortunately, most cases involving assault also end up involving battery. Battery is the crime of willfully touching another, without legal excuse or justification, done in an angry, rude, insulting, or vengeful manner. An individual can be charged with battery by simply engaging in unwanted touching of another person, whether it leads to physical harm or not. Hitting or causing injuries to another person is also considered battery. Engaging in threatening behavior verbally or physically then actually attacking or hitting someone is considered assault and battery.
What Are the Penalties for Felony Assault in Virginia?
Virginia code section 18.2-57 covers penalties for simple assault or assault and battery. These offenses are considered Class 1 misdemeanors and punishable by a fine of up to $2500.00 and a maximum of twelve months in jail. There is some leniency for first-time offenders if the crime was not considered especially egregious. In those cases, offenders will rarely receive the maximum sentence.
Assault or assault and battery crimes can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the crime. Certain types of victims such as police officers, prison or jail guards, and volunteer firefighter or emergency medical personnel are considered protected and even simple assault and battery offenses against one of these types of victims may be charged as a felony and receive harsher penalties.
What Are the Penalties for Someone Charged With Felony Assault in Virginia?
As mentioned previously, some circumstances may cause a simple assault and battery charge to be escalated into a Class 6 felony. If someone engages in a hate crime and harms another person based on race, religion, or ethnicity, they will likely be facing a minimum six-month jail sentence. If the victim of the hate crime actually suffers bodily injuries, the crime is then considered a Class 6 felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Assault and battery of police and other public officers or government workers is also considered a Class 6 felony with a penalty of at least six months in jail, up to a maximum of five years of imprisonment. Likewise, battery of a teacher, school principal, assistant principal, or guidance counselor results in 15 days up to a year in jail. The same applies to the assault and battery of on-duty health care professionals.
In a domestic situation in which someone causes physical harm to a family member, the crime will be considered a Class 6 felony if the offender was previously convicted of two similar charges within the past 20 years. Many other aggravating situations can turn a simple assault and battery misdemeanor charge into a felonious charge. If you have been charged with felony assault in Virginia, it is best to consult a criminal defense attorney so you can fully understand the charges and penalties you may be facing.
What Are Some Possible Defense Strategies to Beat a Felony Assault Charge?
Before you simply plead ‘guilty’ to a felony assault charge, it is best to consult a criminal defense attorney if you want the best chances of de-escalating your charges or having them dropped. Self-representation is often a risky move that does not usually yield favorable outcomes.
Your attorney can employ one or more tried-and-true defense strategies on your behalf. The first one is to challenge the validity of any evidence presented against you. If your attorney can prove that your constitutional rights were violated during your arrest, any evidence collected during the illegal arrest may need to be suppressed in court, leaving the prosecution with very little evidence to prove their case. This often leads to charges being dropped.
Other possible strategies include arguing that your use of force was in self-defense and only meant to stop someone else’s unlawful use of force against you. This same argument can be used as a justification to the defense of others, such as in an attempt to stop a perpetrator from harming or kidnapping another person.
Finally, there is the “castle doctrine”, which enables someone to use reasonable force to defend themselves while at home. The use of force would be justifiable to defend yourself against someone breaking and entering or attempting to harm you. If you are facing felony assault charges in Virginia, contact the criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Seth C. Weston, PLC for a free consultation regarding your case.