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Defending against an assault and battery charge

Assault and battery are two criminal charges that are often intertwined, even though they're actually separate offenses.

Assault involves threatening another person with an injury -- verbally or by your actions. If you actually make contact with the other person, that's considered battery. The contact doesn't necessarily have to be harmful to be considered battery. It's enough for a conviction if the contact is considered offensive to most reasonable people.

How do you defend against assault and battery charges? Here are some possibilities:

1. It was self-defense.

In order to be valid, a violent self-defense has to be reasonable and limited. In other words, you can defend yourself from an attack as long as your fear is real and your response is measured. You can't respond with a brutal attack of your own.

For example, if someone at a party starts shouting because you're dancing too close to his girlfriend and draws back a fist to deliver a powerful punch, your fear of being hit is certainly reasonable. Throwing your drink in his face or punching first might both be justifiable actions -- as long as you promptly made your escape if it was at all possible.

2. You were defending someone else.

The law considers it acceptable for people to act in the defense of those who need assistance. For example, if you see a woman hitting another woman, grabbing the aggressor's arms and pinning her to the ground until the other woman got away could be justifiable.

3. You had consent to act.

This isn't as strange as it sounds. People voluntarily consent to physical contact all the time and then get angry. For example, if your neighbor tosses a basketball at you and you toss it back -- but the catch goes wrong and he breaks a finger -- it certainly shouldn't be considered a crime.

4. You were defending your property.

In North Carolina, you have the legal right to "stand your ground" if you are in your own home -- including the right to use force if necessary to do so.

It's important that you don't simply throw in the towel if you're accused of assault and/or battery, because a conviction will haunt you for the rest of your life. Even if you're assured that you won't face jail time, a conviction opens you up to liability in civil court as well.

Source: FindLaw, "Assault and Battery Overview," accessed March 30, 2018

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