Assault and Battery Charges

In North Carolina, violent crimes do not necessarily involve actual acts of violence, as the terminology can be quite broad. This is very much the case for assault crimes, which encompass alleged threats of violence to acts of violence causing serious bodily injury. While the penalties for these crimes do range from misdemeanors to serious felonies based on the severity of the offense, all assault convictions can carry significant terms of imprisonment and inflict harsh lifestyle consequences long after serving time.

If you are facing charges for assault or assault and battery, you will need proactive and comprehensive legal representation to prepare the best possible defense. Attorneys Brad Polk and Raymond Tarlton are exceptional assault defense attorneys, drawing from their experience as former prosecutors and significant trial expertise. They understand how the judicial system works in these cases and the tactics prosecution will use, and work diligently to investigate the circumstances of the incident and your arrest to build a solid defense. 

punching wall, showing force for assault and battery

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How does North Carolina Define ""Assault" and "Battery"?

When people think of the word “assault”, they often define it as making an actual physical attack on somebody else – an act that is forcible and violent. Under North Carolina law, it is defined far more broadly than this, entailing any act that merely threatens or shows intent to commit violence. This also begs the question of what “battery” and other related terms mean, so they are defined, in North Carolina, as follows:

  • Assault: an attempt to physically injure somebody, or a “show of force” or threat indicating that a physical attack is imminent.
  • Battery: physically injuring another person.
  • Affray: A fight between two or more people in public space, likely to scare others.
  • Abuse: Willful or negligent infliction of injury or harm by someone responsible for the welfare of the alleged victim.

Essentially, “battery” is used to define actual physical harm, which means anybody guilty of battery is also guilty of assault, though not all assaults result in battery.

There are many different forms of assault and battery in North Carolina, broken down in a variety of ways based on elements of the incident, such as:

  • Extent of harm caused
  • Intended amount of harm threatened or attempted.
  • Whether the victim was a protected person (e.g. woman, child, government official)
  • Use of certain objects or tools to commit the assault (e.g. a gun)
  • Whether you committed the act in a role of responsibility against those in your care or authority over.

Several of the factors above can co-occur, which is why assault charges break down into so many different categories in North Carolina law, mostly covered under N.C.G.S § 14, Article 8. Many of these charges are listed below based on whether they are misdemeanors, felonies, or charges for assaulting certain people.

Misdemeanor Assaults in North Carolina

Assaults in North Carolina can be misdemeanor offenses based on the severity of harm caused and whether the defendant had prior assault convictions. Assault crimes classified as misdemeanors include:

Simple Assault

Simple assault, affray, or battery is least serious and most basic form of assault charge. These charges apply to any assault case that does not fit into any of the more serious assault charges. A conviction is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor

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Assault in the Presence of a Minor

North Carolina has many specific charges aimed at punishing domestic violence, including charges for committing a domestic violence assault in the presence of somebody under the age of 18.

To be convicted of domestic violence assault, you must be guilty of either inflicting serious injury or using a deadly weapon in the course of an assault, affray, or assault and battery, on a person with whom you have a “personal relationship” with. This could be a current or former spouse, somebody you live or have lived with, your child, among others. 

For it to be considered in the “presence” of a minor, the minor must have been in a position to see or hear the assault.

A conviction is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor.

Assault by Pointing a Gun

Any act of pointing a gun at another person, whether or not it was done for “fun” or whether or not the gun was loaded, is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor.

Assault Inflicting "Serious Injury"

This crime occurs when somebody commits an assault on another person that inflicts “serious injury”. The notion of serious injury is vaguely defined and comes down to how to had been interpreted in past cases, but it is distinct from “serious bodily injury” which is a felony assault.

Serious Injury can include both mental and physical damage, such as:

  • pain and suffering
  • loss of blood
  • hospitalization
  • time off work
  • feelings of severe depression, hopeless and helplessness
  • insomnia

Generally, the difference between “serious injury” and “serious bodily injury” is that an assault inflicting serious injury would not have a direct or immediate substantial risk of death, nor would it be reasoned to cause permanent disfigurement or disability.

Due to the inclusion of mental harm, this crime does not necessarily need to involve battery (i.e. an actual physical attack), threats and shows of force, if they cause severe mental distress, can fall under the definition of “serious injury”.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Any act of assault, affray, or assault and battery with the use of a deadly weapon, will fall under this crime so long as no other serious factors are present. “Deadly weapon” is not defined in North Carolina’s assault statute, but generally means any object that can be used to kill, such as firearms or knives, and even objects not normally considered a weapon but are used to kill in some cases.

Conviction of assault with a deadly weapon is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor. If other more serious events take place, such as causing serious injury, serious bodily injury or death, the charges will be higher and fall into a felony category.This means that these charges generally apply to cases where a deadly weapon was used to threaten somebody, such as waving a weapon, or discharging a firearm away from somebody to frighten them.

Misdemeanor Assaults on Specific Groups

There are specific assault charges for acts of assault against certain groups of people, whether that be who they are (e.g. a woman, child) or their occupation. Some charges for assault on specific groups are classified as felonies, but the following, if no other more serious circumstances are involved, are misdemeanors:

  • Assault on a female by a male person age 18 or older. Known as “Assault on a Female”.
  • Assault on a child under the age of 12
  • Assault on public transit operators, school employees or volunteers, and state officers or employees, while they are performing their duties.
  • Simple Assault on a person with a disability.

Conviction of any of the above is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor.

Felony Assaults in North Carolina

Felony charges are reserved for assaults deemed more serious under North Carolina law. Some overlap with many of the misdemeanor assaults, but include additional offenses or a combination of misdemeanor offenses. Felony assaults in North Carolina include:

Assault with a Deadly Weapon Inflicting Serious Injury

This charge is essentially the combined crime of misdemeanor “assault with a deadly weapon” and misdemeanor “assault inflicting serious injury”. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class E felony.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon With Intent to Kill

This charge applies to acts of assault on another person using a deadly weapon with intent to kill the victim. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class E felony. This charge applies to cases where the defendant intended to kill but did not succeed in inflicting any injury or death on the victim.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon With Intent to Kill, Inflicting Serious Injury

This charge is the combined offense of the two charges above, where the defendant committed an assault using a deadly weapon with the intent to kill the victim, and succeeded in causing serious injury. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class C felony.

Assault Inflicting "Serious Bodily Injury"

Serious bodily injury carries a different meaning from serious injury, and includes:

  • permanent disfigurement
  • coma
  • permanent severe pain
  • impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ
  • prolonged hospitalization
  • substantial risk of death

If the victim is ruled to have endured serious bodily injury, the defendant would be convicted of a felony regardless of what they used to commit the assault. Most convictions of inflicting serious bodily injury as punished as a class F felony. One exception is that if the serious bodily injury was caused by strangulation, it is punished as a class H felony.

Discharging Firearms Into Property

Using a firearm to shoot at any property or vehicle while people are inside is either a class E or class D felony depending on the property or vehicle. If the discharging causes someone serious bodily injury, it is a class C felony.

Felony Assaults on Specific Groups

Some assaults committed against certain kinds of people or people performing a certain occupation are felonies. These typically involve aggravated forms of assault, and include:

  • Elderly Abuse: Abuse of elderly adults by caretakers ranges from a class I to class F felony, depending on the harm caused and whether it was the result of abuse or neglect.
  • People with Disabilities: Any “aggravated assault” against a person with a disability, whether physical or mental that impairs them from self defense, is punished as a class F felony.
  • Occupation-based Assaults: Aggravated assaults on people while performing their duties in certain occupations are felonies that range from class I to class C felony depending on the occupation and aggravating factors of the offense. Protected occupations include:
    • law enforcement officers
    • parole and probation officers
    • legislative officers
    • firefighters and emergency service officers

Habitual Misdemeanor Assault

A person is guilty of habitual misdemeanor assault when they commit a misdemeanor assault and cause physical injury while having two or more prior misdemeanor or felony assault convictions within the last 15 years. A conviction of the crime is punished as a class H felony.

Maiming and Castration

Any act that involves the unlawful maiming or castration of another person is a felony in North Carolina. Maiming refers to causing another person disfigurement to their face or injury to a limb, while castration refers to such disfigurement or cutting of a person’s genitalia. These crimes are further classified as:

  • Castration or other Maiming Without Malice Afterthought: if an act of maiming or castration was committed on another person without intent to harm them, the punishment is a class E felony.
  • Female Genital Mutilation of a Child: Any act that involves mutilation of a female child’s genitalia (FGM) that is not permitted by valid medical reason, is punished as a class C felony. Parents who permit their child to undergo FGM are also guilty of this crime. It is not acceptable to defend on the basis religious beliefs or traditional customs.
  • Malicious Castration or Maiming: Any act of maiming or castrating another person with intent to cause harm is punished as a class C felony

Secret Assault

If you are found guilty of “secret assault”, the punishment is a class E felony. A secret assault is assault and battery where:

  • you used a deadly weapon,
  • intended to murder the person, and
  • did so in a “secret manner”, where the victim may not have been conscious of your presence.

Can You Face Federal Charges for Assault?

In most cases, assault are handled at the state level, though there are some exceptions. First, like with most other crimes, if the assault occurs on federal property or agents federal agents, you can face charges in federal court. There are a small number of assault cases that can take you to federal court, particularly when it involves assaults against women and girls, including:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

FGM is both a North Carolina crime and federal crime, and a person can potentially face charges in both courts for the same offense. A person is guilty of FGM if they knowingly:

circumcise, excise, or infibulate the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years.

This law is not violated if the act is done because it is:

  • Necessary to the health of the person it is performed on and the surgical procedure is performed by a licensed medical practitioner.
  • Performed on a person in labor or who has just given birth, and is performed for medical purposes connected with labor or birth by a medical practitioner or midwife.

This crime is punished by an imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine, or a fine, or both.

Domestic Assault by a Habitual Offender

If a person had been convicted of domestic assault, sexual abuse or any other serious violent felony against a spouse, intimate partner, or child in their care, on two or more prior occasions, they can face federal charges under 18 U.S.C § 117. This means that if you had been convicted twice in state court for domestic violence, and then face charges for it a third time, your case can be taken up in federal court for additional penalties.

The penalties for a conviction of this offense are imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine, or both, unless the offense resulted in substantial bodily injury to the victim, in which the imprisonment can be up to 10 years.

Defending Against Assault and Battery Charges

If you have been accused of stalking or cyberstalking, you should contact an experienced defense attorney immediately. The attorneys at Tarlton | Polk have handled many such cases and related cases in areas like domestic violence, assault, and threats, so they understand the kinds of tactics prosecutions use in these cases. As the definition for stalking and cyberstalking are broad, these charges require meticulous examination of the facts involved and evidence against you to devise an effective defense strategy. Every case is unique so what may be an effective strategy in one may not be viable in another, but below are some examples of aspects of the charges an experienced lawyer can build a defense on. 

Defense of Self, Others or Property

North Carolina has a handful of laws protecting your right to defend yourself, loved ones and your property. The state also has a “no duty to retreat” law, where you are not expected to retreat from your home, vehicle or workplace due to fear or death or serious injury, and may instead defend yourself with force.

Whether self defense is acceptable is based on the notion of “justifiable use of force”. A force is justified when:

  • You have lawful right to be in the property,
  • You reasonably believe that the force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily injury to you or another person.

This applies to force against anybody, with the exception of a law enforcement officer performing their lawful duties, so long as they either identified themselves to you as a law enforcement officer or you had reason to know they were one.

Deadly force is not justified in cases where:

  • The victim had the right to be in the home, vehicle or workplace and there was no active order prohibiting their contact with you.
  • Force was used after the victim had ended efforts to force themselves into your home, vehicle or workplace.
  • The person using deadly force was the initial aggressor.

Voluntary Consent

Questions of whether the alleged victim consented to the act typically apply to cases of sexual assault, but can be a defense in some less serious forms of assault. Generally, this would not be a valid defense approach if the victim suffered serious injuries that involve contact but no serious injury, but can be a defense of alleged acts of unwanted touching or contact.

Request a Consultation with Tarlton | Polk Assaullt Attorneys

Our lawyers have successfully represented clients in assault and related cases, so they know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used in violent crime prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.