You are likely familiar with the concept of assault in Virginia. While everyone knows that altercations can be criminal offenses, many aren’t aware that there are multiple forms of the crime. There are also numerous misconceptions regarding assault, battery, and other actions that are considered criminal. Among the most serious assault-related charges is felony assault, which could lead to lengthy incarceration, fines, and other penalties if you’re convicted.
At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, our Roanoke assault lawyers understand that you’re probably confused and frightened if you are facing felony assault charges in Virginia. It’s very important to remember that you’re innocent until proven guilty and deserve the opportunity to defend yourself even against violent crime accusations. We’re committed to presenting the strongest defense available for our clients and fight to obtain a favorable result in every case we handle.
We think your version of the story should be told. Call our Roanoke criminal defense attorneys today at (540) 343-9349 to set up a free, initial consultation. We can discuss how you came to be charged with felony assault and what can be done to improve your situation.
Overview of Virginia Assault Laws
Understanding assault as a felony starts with a description of how assault and battery offenses work in Virginia. They are both covered under the same statutory section of the Code of Virginia, but they’re actually quite different. Battery is any offensive or harmful touching of another person when you intended to make such unwanted contact. You don’t need to cause physical injury to be charged with battery, however.
Assault is an intentional act that instills apprehension in another person that harmful or offensive contact is about to occur. From this definition, you can see that actual physical contact isn’t an element of the crime. It’s enough that you create a reasonable fear in the victim that you’re about to cause an offensive, unwanted touching. This basic form of assault could lead to Class 1 Misdemeanor charges, the highest level of misdemeanor.
Felony Assault is a Serious Crime in Virginia
An assault reaches a felony classification in designated situations, which generally involve your motivation and the identity of the victim.
Hate Crimes: If the circumstances indicate a hate crime occurred you could be arrested for Class 6 Felony Assault. In addition to proving a simple assault, a prosecutor must also establish that:
- You purposefully selected your victim based upon race, religion, nationality, or color; and,
- You caused bodily injury to the victim.
If there’s no injury to the victim, but evidence shows that your assault was motivated by bias, the matter remains a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Here are two examples to illustrate how felony assault may be charged in Virginia:
Class 6 Felony Assault: You shout offensive slurs at the victim while imposing injury-causing blows with your fists.
Class 1 Misdemeanor or Simple Assault: You shout offensive slurs at the victim as you lunge with your fists, but you don’t make contact.
Assault Based upon the Victim’s Status: Virginia law treats assault as a more serious crime when your conduct targets individuals specifically designated by the statute. You could face Class 6 Felony charges if your assault is against:
- A judge;
- A police, probation, or correctional officer;
- Certain employees of the Department of Juvenile Justice or Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
- Emergency medical personnel; and,
- Other officials described by the statute.
Malicious & Unlawful Wounding in Virginia
In addition to assault, there are other very serious felony charges associated with inflicting harm on others. Typically, if you are accused of wounding someone with the intent to harm or kill, the offense will be malicious wounding. What constitutes a wounding is open to some interpretation in Virginia and while this charge can be reduced to unlawful wounding under some circumstances, it can also be heightened to an even more egregious crime of aggravated malicious wounding if other factors are present.
To be convicted of malicious wounding, a prosecutor must prove that you shot, stabbed, cut, wounded, or injured another person’s body with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable, or kill, and that you did so with malice. A lot will depend on establishing malice, and as a Class 3 felony, malicious wounding is punishable by five to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
The statute also says that when you stab, cut, or wound another person, or cause another person bodily harm, unlawfully and intentionally — but without malice , the offense is unlawful wounding, which is a Class 6 felony. On the other hand, When the victim of a malicious wounding is permanently or significantly impaired, the offense is a Class 2 felony called aggravated malicious wounding with penalties including 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Potential Penalties and Defenses
The exact nature of your sentence for a felony assault conviction may vary based upon your circumstances. A judge is required to review Virginia’s sentencing guidelines in connection with your case, so factors like your criminal history and type of weapon may affect your punishment. Regardless, felony assault is a Class 6 Felony, which means you face penalties described by law:
- Felony Assault for a Hate Crime: Incarceration of at least six months, with a mandatory minimum of 30 days; and,
- Felony Assault Against an Official: A mandatory term of six months’ imprisonment.
However, there are defense strategies to fight the allegations. In general, if the prosecutor cannot prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, you could be acquitted. You might also take advantage of available defenses, such as:
- You didn’t select a victim based upon bias;
- The victim was an official, but not engaged in public duties; or,
- You were defending yourself, another person, or your property.
The First Step is Getting Legal Help from an Experienced Lawyer
If you were arrested for felony assault in Roanoke or the surrounding areas and want to know more about your rights, please contact Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico to speak with one of our criminal defense attorneys. You can schedule a free and confidential consultation at our Roanoke, VA office by calling (540) 343-9349 or complete our online form. We’re happy to explain how felony assault cases work in Virginia and get started on a strategy to fight the charges.