In any given day in San Diego and cities across the US, it’s likely that two people will end up in a verbal disagreement that will end up in a fist fight. But if both parties agree to participate in mutual combat, is it actually against the law? Technically yes, but if you and the other party agree you were involved in mutual combat, you will generally not end up being charged with a crime.
When Can Claiming You Were in Mutual Combat Beneficial?
You can claim you and the other party agreed to fight in order to avoid battery charges in most cases, that’s even true if the agreement wasn’t explicitly stated but implied. As long as one person didn’t suffer dramatically worse injuries than the other and both people agree the fight was mutual, prosecutors will be unlikely to file charges.
With that in mind, it’s important to remember that, mutual combat is technically against the law and prosecutors could still file charges against both parties. Since both people would then likely invoke their Fifth amendment rights against self incrimination, it would be very difficult to secure a conviction against either person, which is why prosecutors don’t generally bother filing charges in these cases.
Of course, if you tell police the combat was mutual, you’re placing a lot of faith in the fact that the other person (who you just got in a fistfight with) will agree with you. If he (or she) doesn’t agree, then you will have just given police information that could be used against you if the prosecutor does file charges.
It’s also worth noting that when one person is severely injured and the other isn’t, police often arrest the less injured party even if both parties state at the time that the fight was consensual -and it is fairly likely charges will be filed as well.
Throwing the First (or Last) Punch
If you and another person were arguing verbally but you acted as the initial aggressor when it actually came to throwing a punch, you may believe the fighting was mutual, but the other person may believe they were acting in self defense. In these cases, as the initial aggressor, you are likely to be charged with battery or aggravated assault and if you told the police you threw the first punch after combat was agreed upon, this could be enough to secure a conviction.
This is why many people are so hesitant to be the initial aggressor in a fight, since it puts a much heavier legal burden on their ability to fight the charges, whereas the other party can claim self defense even if the fight was mostly consensual.
It’s also worth noting that if you took things too far and continued to fight after the other person stopped fighting or became unable to fight, or if you used deadly force, then you should contact a lawyer, even if witnesses agree the fight was mutual. That’s because regardless of what the other party and the witnesses say, if you used deadly force or caused the other person serious injuries, prosecutors are likely to believe you used excessive force.
Mutual Combat and Self Defense
It’s worth mentioning that by claiming the combat was initially mutual, you are sacrificing your ability to claim that you acted in self defense in most cases. That being said, if you clearly tried to stop fighting and the other party refused to stop, then you can successfully argue that you used self defense to protect yourself against further attacks.
Similarly, if the other party suddenly took out a knife or gun or otherwise threatened to use deadly force, you can claim you used deadly force in response in an attempt to defend yourself. This self defense strategy can be particularly strong in cases where a fight left someone dead or hospitalized.
Fighting in Public and Disorderly Conduct
Whether or not assault and/or battery charges are filed, you can also face disorderly conduct (aka disturbing the peace) charges if the fight took place in public. Under this law, it is illegal to fight or to challenge someone to fight in a public place. Disturbing the peace can be charged as infraction, punishable by a fine, or as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine.
Again though, someone acting in self defense is immune from these charges, which is another why it pays to avoid being the initial aggressor in a fight.
Whatever the specifics circumstances of a street brawl, it is important to remember that whatever you say may be used against you later. This is why it is so important to always talk to an attorney before you talk to the police. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.
Image by thommas68