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What Are the Consequences of Fighting in Public?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

Even in the land of the free, fighting in public is illegal. It is disorderly conduct that disturbs the peace. And keeping the peace is part of the social contract.

You didn't sign that contract but were born into it, and being a member of society means following certain rules of behavior that keep a general sense of peace. Ignoring those rules by brawling in public is a criminal offense, punishable by fines, jail time, or both.

Punishment Varies

Every locality has its regulations. Punishment for disorderly conduct, or breaching the peace, varies not only from state to state, but sometimes also county to county. Plus, fighters also face other charges with more serious consequences, too.

Depending on where the fight takes place and whether anyone is hurt, brawlers may be accused of assault or battery. States have slight variations on how they define these two charges but they can be generalized as follows.


Assault is when a person threatens to do harm and has the apparent means to follow through, causing a reasonable fear of imminent danger in another. In the context of a fight, threatening to punch someone sitting across a table in the face, while clenching a fist, may constitute an assault.

By contrast, threatening someone with violence, say, across a stadium is probably not assault. The key is imminent threat and the apparent ability to follow through. Raising a fist across the table, as opposed to across a stadium, presents a more imminent threat that would reasonably put another person in fear.


A battery is when the assault goes from imminent threat of harm to an actual touching. Again, each state will define crimes differently and there are slight variations from place to place, but the basic idea is that an unwanted touching is a battery.

Battery charges can arise from even a minor contact, if it is unwanted. And the accused need not use hands or feet or any part of the body to cause the touching. Battery can be committed with an umbrella, a pencil, and pretty much anything else that serves as an extension of the person.

The Supreme Art of War

So the next time you are feeling feisty, do not get in a fight in public. That is a no-win situation. The possible consequences of brawling are anything from minimal criminal charges to a serious felony offense punishable by time in prison.

As the ancient military tactician Sun-Tzu wrote, "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

If you have been involved in a fight, you may need to seek the help of an criminal defense lawyer in your area.

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