We’ve all heard of “the fighting Irish,” but that’s a sports team – not a way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, for many in the Chicago area who decide to mark the holiday by enjoying a few drinks with friends, things can get a bit rowdy. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself facing assault charges.
Not buying it?
Maybe that’s because you’re not completely familiar with the legal definition of assault in Illinois. Most people, understandably, imagine getting into a physical altercation when they hear that word. Even with several drinks in you, getting into a bar fight may seem unlikely.
Here’s the thing, though: that’s not actually what assault means at all.
How Illinois Defines Assault – and What the Common Definition of “Assault” Translates to In Our Criminal Statutes
Chances are, you’ve heard of assault and battery. On almost every crime show ever, they tend to be grouped together. As if they were a single crime.
In fact, under Illinois law assault is the act of threatening violence and putting another person in reasonable apprehension of being harmed. Battery, in contrast, is the physical act of putting your hands or weapon on another person in order to inflict bodily harm. So one is the threat of violence, while the other is the actual violent act.
Maybe you can’t see yourself getting drunk and punching someone out – but how about yelling at them in a threatening manner if they spill their beer all over you? Or if they’re being a real jerk to one of your friends? Sounds a bit more plausible, right?
How Much Punishment Can You Really Face for a Threat?
Since assault doesn’t even involve causing actual harm to anyone, you might think that the penalties associated with it are pretty minor. Compared to battery, you’re not wrong – physically hurt someone and you can face up to one year in jail and/or fines of up to $2,500.
However, assault charges are still quite serious. You will be hit with a Class C misdemeanor offense, which includes up to 30 days in jail and/or fines of up to $1,500. If the assault charge is your first altercation with the law, you may just see up to 120 hours of community service.
That’s just the beginning, though. If prosecutors can find aggravating factors in your case, your assault charge can be bumped up to a more serious misdemeanor offense. Aggravating factors in Illinois include:
- Committing a crime against a person with an intellectual or physical disability, senior, pregnant woman, teacher, taxi driver, or nurse
- Using or possessing a firearm during the assault or battery
- Causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement
- Causes great bodily harm to a peace officer, fireman, security officer, or related professional while in the line of duty
Obviously, the last two wouldn’t apply to assault, but they do factor in if your threats end up leading to the actual violence of a battery, and that’s there things start to get really bad. Aggravated battery is a Class 3 felony charge. In extreme cases, it can even become a Class 1 or a Class X felony.
Partying Is Not a Defense for Assault and Battery Charges
The worst part about drinking too much is that you probably didn’t intend to get into a fight with anyone. You might not even remember what happened the next morning when you wake up in a jail cell.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter. If you want to get out of a conviction and the resulting penalties, you will need a better defense than not remembering the fight. Drunkenness in general is not a good legal strategy to use against assault or battery charges. More appropriate defenses may include:
- Defense of property
- Lack of reasonable apprehension of violence
The most effective defense strategy is the one that best fits the specific facts of your case. Talk to an Illinois assault and battery lawyer for more information about your charges, your options, and the possible outcomes.
Also remember that getting into a drunk altercation isn’t the only thing to worry about if you plan to hoist a few with friends this St. Paddy’s Day. Police will be out in force watching for drunk drivers, so you need to plan ahead to avoid getting a DUI. Heck, even if you just get drunk and cause a scene it can cause problems. Public intoxication isn’t a criminal offense in Illinois, but police do have the right to put you under protective custody until you are sobered up.
The bottom line? Enjoy the green river with a million or so of your closest friends, but do so responsibly.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.