An assault and battery charge is a serious offense, and you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon the circumstances of the supposed crime. Moreover, you are left with a criminal record of violent crime that can compromise many important aspects of your life, including employment, loans, housing, and child custody.
If charged with assault or battery in North Carolina, it is important to be aware of the level of charges you may be facing, and to know what factors could increase or decrease the severity of the offense. You should also be aware of the potential defenses that can be used, and discuss with your attorney which ones may be relevant to your case.
Self-defense is one of the most common assault and battery defenses. It is well-accepted that individuals have the right to protect themselves against a reasonable threat of bodily harm under certain circumstances.
There are a few key elements required to make a viable case for self-defense. The defendant must have a threat of unlawful force or bodily harm, a reasonable perceived fear of harm against themselves, no prior record of harm or provocation, and no reasonable chance to evade or escape the situation. Evidence of the other party’s intent to do harm and defendant’s lack of intent, such as witness statements, are key to making a case for self-defense.
It is important to note that a mutual physical altercation willingly entered into by both parties generally does not constitute self-defense. In this case a consent defense, discussed below, may be more appropriate.
Defense of others
A defense of others defense is very similar to self-defense, differing only in that the defendant must have a reasonable and honest perceived threat of harm to another person. Defense of others has similar limitations to that of self-defense, and the defendant must be able to prove that he or she had reasonable grounds for his or her perceived fear.
A witness statement from the third party who was under threat of harm may be helpful in making a defense of others case.
If the defendant and alleged victim engaged consensually in a behavior where the injury was foreseeable, for example a fight, it may be possible for assault charges to be dropped or reduced, as the events that led to the assault were mutually consented upon by both parties.
To make a good consent defense, it is important to provide evidence that the other party consented to the fight or other harmful behavior.
Coercion or duress
If the defendant was coerced by another individual to commit the assault, a coercion or duress defense may be possible. For a duress defense to hold up in court, there must be evidence of the use or threat of physical force that would have driven the defendant, or another reasonable person, to commit the crime.
There are three critical elements to a good duress defense, including evidence of immediate threat of death or serious injury to the actor, a reasonable and well-based fear that someone will carry out the threat, and that the actor has no reasonable ability to escape and avoid committing the crime.
In assault cases, the victim may misidentify his or her assailant, especially because an assault is often a traumatic experience that may impair the victim’s memory. In this case a misidentification defense is most appropriate for the wrongly accused.
If the defendant did not commit the assault and was not in the proximity when the incident took place, it may be possible to use the alibi defense. Evidence proving that the defendant was not anywhere near the scene of the crime at the time it occurred will cast reasonable doubt upon the defendant’s involvement in the crime.
Failure to meet the burden
In any criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each element of the crime. If the prosecution is unable to meet this burden by providing sufficient evidence, the jury must find the defendant not guilty. A criminal defense attorney may challenge the credibility of witnesses or other evidence to convince the jury that the prosecution has not met this burden.
If you are faced with an assault and battery charge, it is important to involve a skilled NC criminal defense attorney early in the process. Your attorney can ensure that your rights are protected during questioning and over the course of the investigation, potentially getting your case thrown out before it goes to trial. An experienced attorney can also build the best possible case should you go to trial, maximizing your chance of a favorable outcome.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.