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What is the Law on Affray in Virginia and What are the Punishments for it?

The word ‘affray’ is not a word used very commonly nowadays. It has been derived from the French word ‘affrayer’ which means to cause fear or fright.

The law on affray in Virginia was created by section3 of the Public Order Act of 1986. It states that a person is guilty of affray if he uses unlawful violence towards another and behaves in such a manner that a reasonably firm person present at the scene of the disturbance would be caused to fear for his or her personal safety.

When referring to an’ affray’ or ‘affray’ legally. it can be described as a criminal offense. In an affray, two or more persons are involved in a fight. The fight becomes so violent that the public watching it feels terrorized. In fact, violence is what distinguishes it from an argument, and the degree of its gravity can be increased by the locality in which it is happening.

Virginia Affray Law
Even the harshness at its final sentencing can be influenced by this. For instance, the extent of the disturbance would be far greater if it took place near a school or place of worship than outside one’s own home or in a deserted place.

Sometimes an affray can develop into a case of physical harm and even a case of assault, or be relegated to a case of public disturbance which is a Class1 misdemeanor.  Assault is usually considered to be an element of affray, except for when both parties resort to physical fighting.

It follows that if one of the parties is convicted of an assault which is part of the conviction the assault conviction must be merged with the affray conviction. While an affray is a common law crime and has no drastic statutory limitation the assault sentence (also a common law crime) is limited to not more than ten years.

Affray Law Virginia

Both charges, Affray and Assault, require a mental element to being proven on the part of the supposed offender. The mental element for Affray is established if the person tries to use violence, warns of violence or is conscious that his or her conduct may be aggressive or promises violent behavior.

Another important difference between assault and affray is an aggravated disturbance of public peace and is an offense against the public. 2A C.J.S. Affray. In contrast, an assault is a crime against a human being and is therefore significantly different from an affray in that it is personal.

A conviction for an Affray can be obtained more readily than a conviction for Assault.


Being a more serious offense, than common assault, an Affray can be handled in either the District Court or the Local Court. The penalty that can be granted on indictment is from 3 years to ten years incarceration as well as an unlimited fine. However, if it is a person’s first conviction the chances are an offender may not be incarcerated.

In the case of a summary conviction, the highest penalty can be a 6-month term in prison along with a fine.

A summary conviction is one made for a less serious offense than an indictable offense. the procedure and the punishment are less time-consuming and tedious.

On July 1, 2018, 800 New Laws Went Into Effect in Virginia during the General Assembly Session. These changes in the many laws on mental health, criminal offenses and such changed the law on affray in several ways. It is relevant to point out here that, following the 2018 legislation of Virginia, any citizen of Virginia who is convicted of a misdemeanor including trespassing and assault among others, must submit a blood, saliva or tissue sample for their DNA to be analyzed.

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