Young adults in college often learn through personal experiences as much as through college courses. Going out with friends and making mistakes is a sure way to gain real-world experience. Unfortunately, some kinds of college experimentation could result in a criminal conviction that haunts you for the rest of your life.

While fist fights and party brawls used to be almost a coming-of-age ritual, these days that kind of violence is likely to end up on YouTube and in front of a disciplinary panel at your school. Those consequences are for the luckiest students. If you hit someone in a drunken fight, you could actually find yourself facing very serious criminal charges in Virginia.

Threatening someone could lead to assault charges

Generally speaking, criminal charges related to a physical altercation fall into one of two primary categories, assault and battery. Assault involves someone making a threat of harm. This threat could be verbal, involving one party directly threatening to harm someone else. It could also be non-verbal in some cases, including actions intended to frighten or intimidate another, such as towering over them, backing them into a corner or making aggressive gestures.

If the other person has reason to believe you intend to cause harm, that could be sufficient grounds for assault charges, even if you never touch the other person.

An actual fight could result in battery charges

Battery typically involves physical contact with another person. While punching, kicking or slapping another person could be battery from a legal perspective, so can unwanted touching. Hugging or otherwise touching another person without their permission could be grounds for battery charges, much like a fist fight.

Similarly, any time you hit, kick or otherwise physically abuse another person, you could face criminal battery charges as a result. Many times, the courts combine assault and battery into a single charge, but it is fully possible to face just assault or just battery charges as the result of a fight at a party.

Defending yourself is not against the law

The broad definitions of assault and battery help ensure that the public has the right to bodily autonomy. Those who threaten, strike or touch someone without permission can end up facing criminal charges related to those actions. That doesn’t mean that you never have the right to use physical force. If someone else strikes you or another person or otherwise breaks the law, you have the right to defend yourself as well as others.

If you hit someone who has already hit you, law enforcement and the courts may consider your actions self-defense. It’s important to know when to stop and to try to use as little force as possible.

Getting into a fight at a party may seem like harmless fun, until the police show up. You could end up facing serious criminal charges, as well as disciplinary actions from the school. In some cases, your career at that particular college could end as a result of a single altercation.