• Is it against the law to fight?

    Date: 09.07.07 | by Judge Tom.

    Your everyday spat between siblings isn′t against the law. But if the argument escalates and someone is injured, you’ve probably broken the law. Fighting is referred to by different names, depending on the incident and whether injuries occur. Assault, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace are terms often used to describe an exchange of words or blows with another person.

    fighting

    Let′s say you′re at home after school, and your sister walks in wearing your new shoes. She didn′t ask to borrow them, and now they′re scuffed up. You start yelling at each other, and you get angrier when she argues that you do the same thing with her clothes. You grab the TV remote control, throw it, and it hits her on the head.

    This is an example of a verbal fight that turned into an assault. You weren′t threatened by your sister, so you can′t claim self-defense. If you′re the aggressor and made the first contact, you may be charged with assault.

    Assume that this confrontation lasts for a while or goes on all night. Your father is home, he′s unable to control the two of you, and he becomes increasingly upset over the situation. Your acts have disturbed your father′s peace and quiet. Both you and your sister could be charged with disorderly conduct.

    You′re a victim of disorderly conduct if someone near you disrupts your peace by fighting, exhibiting violent behavior, swearing, or making loud noise. Or you could get involved in an after-school fight behind the gym or under the bleachers. Mutual combat—in which you and another person or persons agree to fight—may be disorderly conduct or a violation of a local law.

    It′s clearly against school policy, requiring you to face disciplinary action by the school. If you′re trained in boxing or the martial arts, your level of proficiency may be considered by the court and could increase any consequences imposed, depending on the circumstances of the case.

    fight2

    Random fighting takes place on school grounds from elementary school through the twelfth grade. In 1996, a three-year-old schoolyard bully in Boston was ordered by a judge to stop hitting a classmate and was told that if he continued hitting, he could face a fine or jail. Kids are resorting to violence more often when faced with a challenge. A wrong look or comment, offensive colors or styles of clothing, or unintentional contact with someone in the hall may spark a confrontation.

    Many schools and communities now offer classes in conflict resolution. If your school doesn′t offer this kind of program, see if you can help set something up. Trained professionals are available in most communities and may be willing to speak to students and teachers. Check with your local police department or domestic violence shelters for more information.

    If you are exposed to domestic violence in your home or are the victim of domestic violence, seek help immediately. If you have no one to turn to and don’t know what to do about it, call the national Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.  Don’t expect things to get better by themselves – the abuser needs help and you need to be safe.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    6 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Anonymous
      Sun, 22 Jan 2012 at 02:45

      Here in Arizona, fights are basically ignored by police. If someone pushes you, you push back, and then they punch you and keep punching until you’re dead, that’s fully legal, because they consider that “mutual combat”.

      This is a screwed-up society we live in, and the aggressors are usually protected from punishment.
      Dear Anonymous: We’re not sure where you’re getting your information from or if you are kidding around, but you are wrong about fighting in Arizona (or any state for that matter). If a person begins physically attacking another whether it’s hitting, kicking, punching, etc., he/she will be arrested and/or charged with assault. Depending on how violent the fight gets, aggravated assault charges may be a possibility, which makes the potential consequences much more harsh.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Erik
      Wed, 20 Jun 2012 at 10:05

      I’m confused about “fighting words”: In 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court established the doctrine by a 9-0 decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. It held that “insulting or ‘fighting words,’ those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” Fighting words are intended to cause the hearer to react to the speaker.

      Considering that most fights start with words first, Why would the first person to contact the other be the one charged with assault?
      Dear Erik: Great question. There’s a difference between a “civil” and “criminal” wrong. Words alone in the criminal context don’t justify physical retaliation – in other words, you can’t claim as a defense to an assault that the other person called you an offensive name. However, if you use offensive language at school that has the potential to create a riot or disturbance, the school may discipline you. This is the “civil” side of a situation where there may be consequences for speech without physical contact with another person.
      (This is information only – not legal advice)

    • Melissa Alvarez
      Thu, 23 May 2013 at 05:56

      What if the 2 kids fight cause the other kids mother called to get her son to come fight this other kid?She denied that she did it but the son told others that she told him to.So police said ”since she denied it there is nothing they can do.What do u do about this?
      Dear Melissa: Talk about this with an adult in your family that you trust. Let them know what’s going on so they can do what’s necessary to prevent further fighting. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Anonymous 2
      Tue, 28 May 2013 at 02:52

      If you’re being harassed (bullied) time and again. And you decide to fight back, does the law take the prior bullying into consideration of the conflict for whatever legal ramifications?
      Dear Reader: The law may take a prior history into consideration but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t be charged and possibly found guilty of assault or battery. You do have a right to defend yourself, but each situation has to be looked at closely before deciding who’s the aggressor and if more than a lawful defense is put up – in other words, you can’t use excessive force in defending yourself. If you’re a minor, talk this over with your parents. It’s always best to know your rights before acting. Good luck.
      (This is information only -not legal advice).

    • C
      Fri, 07 Jun 2013 at 10:55

      If someone comes to your house and they decide to walk into your house without permission and you ask them to get out of the house but they decline. can you get in a fight with that person legally?
      Dear C: It’s going to depend on the specific laws of your state as well as the facts and circumstances. For example, if you feel threatened or in fear of your life or safety, then it’s most likely okay to use physical force to make them leave. You need to look to your state’s self-defense laws and apply the facts to determine whether physical contact is appropriate/legal. If you know the person and they just are not listening to you, then it’s probably best to first warn them that you will call the police if they don’t leave and then do so if they remain in the house. Thanks for asking.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Caleby
      Fri, 19 Jul 2013 at 03:12

      I was wondering if someone was 18 and the other person was underage if fighting was legal? i have searched everywhere for the answer but if anyone finds the answer please email me calebyz@yahoo.com
      Dear Caleby: Try googling the name of your state or city and “fighting laws” for information. The age difference you mentioned could result in an assault charge if the adult is the aggressor. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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