Violent crimes, because of their impact on victims and the associated costs to society, are generally treated more seriously by courts and prosecuting attorneys than certain other classes of crime.
Many violent crimes are classified by degree, with multiple degrees applying to a single crime depending upon the circumstances. It can be difficult to know what to expect in a violent crime prosecution. Sometimes the defendant is charged with a more serious offense, but the defendant’s criminal defense attorney is able to negotiate for a reduction in the charges.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, or in tandem, assault and battery are actually two entirely separate crimes. Assault, unlike battery, does not require actual physical contact. Like the related crime of intimidation, assault requires only a threat ‒ whether direct or through action ‒ that puts the victim in reasonable fear of immediate harm.
Battery, on the other hand, requires physical contact. However, contrary to popular belief, battery does not in most states require any physical harm. A typical battery statute makes it a crime to “touch another person in a rude, angry, insolent, or unwelcome manner”, or words to that effect. Almost any form of touch, dependent on the circumstances, might constitute a battery.
Both assault and battery can be “aggravated”, and upgraded to more serious charges. For instance, assault might become aggravated assault ‒ a felony in some states‒ if a weapon is involved. Battery might be aggravated if it resulted in injury to the victim, or if the victim was a minor or fell into some other special class.
Without any aggravating factors, assault and battery are both misdemeanors in most states, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious ‒ misdemeanors are classified as such simply because they carry a penalty of up to one year in jail. In addition, many states list numerous aggravating factors.
In most states, domestic violence is a separate charge, filed alone or in conjunction with assault and/or battery charges. The key difference between domestic violence and other forms of assault or battery is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim.
The seriousness of domestic violence charges may vary depending on factors such as the degree of injury to the victim, the extent of property damage, and whether or not minor children were present during the incident.
In some states, a second instance of domestic violence involving the same perpetrator and victim is automatically a felony, even if none of the other aggravating factors is present.
Historically, many domestic violence cases were not prosecuted because the victim opted not to “press charges”, or later decided not to cooperate with the prosecution. During the past several years, prosecutors have increasingly opted to pursue domestic violence charges without the victim’s cooperation, or even over her objection, so that in most jurisdictions it is no longer an option for the victim to “drop the charges”.
All crimes ending in the death of the victim fall into this category, but the culpability, and thus the associated penalty, varies widely from one crime to another. The most serious charges, such as murder for hire, carry the possible penalty of death in some states, and life imprisonment in others.
Murder charges can be aggravated by other circumstances as well: lying in wait for the victim and murder (even if accidental) that occurs during the commission of a felony are two of the most common.
Manslaughter, in most states, is broken into two categories. The terminology varies, but the general breakdown is “voluntary” and “involuntary”.
Voluntary manslaughter generally refers to a killing that does not rise to the statutory definition of murder due to lack of intent or some other mitigating circumstance, but was nonetheless an intentional killing. Voluntary manslaughter is narrowly defined in most states, and will be applicable only in a situation that would have moved a reasonable person to emotional or mental instability.
Involuntary manslaughter generally relates to the reckless but unintentional killing of another person. A person who engages in an inherently dangerous activity and knows-or reasonably should know-that the act carries the risk of killing or seriously harming someone may be guilty of voluntary manslaughter if death in fact results.
Some states distinguish vehicular manslaughter, which typically refers to death occurring as the result of reckless driving or a related offense.
The exact terminology and classification varies somewhat from state to state, but most states distinguish at least three and sometimes more than three levels of culpability and related penalties for crimes ending in the death of another person. Often, one type of homicide is charged as a “lesser included offense” along with another.
By charging the defendant with both murder and voluntary manslaughter, for instance, the prosecution can create a safety net in hopes that if the jury won’t convict on the more serious charge, it will “compromise” with a manslaughter conviction.
Hate crime typically doesn’t refer to a particular crime, but to a sentencing enhancement that can be applied to a wide range of crimes when those crimes are motivated by bias against a protected group. Thus, in order to prove a hate crime, the prosecution must prove two independent elements:
- that the defendant committed the underlying crime, and;
- that the defendant was motivated by hate or bias toward the minority group to which the victim belongs.
More than half of all reported hate crimes are racially motivated.
The Bottom Line
Violent crimes can carry stiff penalties, and the treatment and classification of various crimes against people can vary significantly from state to state. In fact, even different jurisdictions within the same state ‒ and thus operating under the same laws- may have very different standards when it comes to issues like reducing charges, offering plea agreements, and granting probation. Speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area to get more information about how charges like yours are treated in your local system. Just fill out the free online evaluation form on this page or call us toll free at 877-445-1059 and we’ll put you in touch with a criminal lawyer who will review your case and explain your rights and options.
The above summary of violent crimes is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on violent crime laws and penalties, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.