Stop and Think: Throwing That Punch Could Net You Criminal Charges

Published on: 11/8/2012

Like everyone else, I raised an eyebrow when I saw the headline trumpeting an 18 percent increase in the number of aggravated assaults in Milwaukee during the first eight months of 2012 compared to the same period last year. We’d rather not think of our society as one that’s becoming more and more violent but the numbers don’t lie. In fact, the aggravated assault / battery figure was also higher for the same period in 2010 after we saw a slight decline from 2008 to 2009.

Wisconsin’s statutes on battery differentiate the penalties for this type of violence based on the severity of the violence. Battery is divided up into “substantial battery” and “aggravated” battery and the devil is in the details when trying to distinguish between causing “great” bodily harm and “substantial” bodily harm.

While it might be a bit difficult to understand all of the differences, you should know that throwing that punch, even while trying to protect someone else who’s being attacked, could net you felony charges.

In our firm, we are seeing more substantial injuries resulting from physical violence in many cases and increasing the penalties in the big picture. Authorities in law enforcement and the district attorney’s office certainly take this crime very seriously given the nature of the actual injuries involved. Whereas this type of offense might have been discharged years ago as a misdemeanor battery, even if somebody required stitches or lost a tooth, nowadays this same offense is treated as a felony.

Battery is defined as bodily harm enacted on another with intent to cause bodily harm to that person without the consent of the other person. Now, certainly harm comes in degrees. For example, a person could be punched in the arm and call it “harm.” Perhaps you could slap someone on the back of the head and it would be considered harm. There’s not that high of a threshold to define an actual battery.

People don’t realize that if they get into a bar brawl and there’s a push or a shove and somebody splits their head open or breaks a tooth, they could be charged with a felony because there is substantial bodily harm. You also have “great” bodily harm, a lesser offense than causing “substantial” bodily harm but is still a felony.

There was also a recent case involving a man who punched an elderly gentleman and it only took that one punch to kill the elderly man. You never know what the end result is going to be and what kind of damage you will do to the other person. Getting involved in pushing during a bar fight could also set you up for criminal charges, misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the injury.

Never let your anger turn physical because there’s never going to be a good end result, especially if there is alcohol involved. If you are involved in a disagreement at a bar, walk away. Nothing good can happen to you if you allow your temper to get the best of you. A person who gets hit in the head will be victimized very quickly.

You could even be trying to help somebody out and wind up getting charged with a crime yourself. For example, I have a friend who recently went to a Green Bay Packer game. His buddy was mistaken as an obnoxious Chicago Bears fan and a guy jumped him and slammed his head into the ground, knocking him out. Another man pulled the other guy off and guess what? The second man wound up getting charged. It’s kind of like the football game itself. The referee might not see the initial punch but he almost always sees the retaliation punch.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t intervene if you can stop physical violence but you need to know that your act of defending someone else could also put you in line for criminal charges if things spiral out of control. Regrettably, trying to defend someone can fall under the category of “no good deed goes unpunished” if you are not careful with your physical actions.

Bottom line? Stop and think before you shove someone or throw a punch. Criminal charges linger long after reason intervenes and tempers simmer down.