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What Happens When Cross Your Arms and Make a Threat?

On Behalf of | Mar 25, 2020 | Firm News |

The short answer to that question is that you may find yourself convicted of assault. Here’s the story, around May 7, 2007, a bus driver and parent disagree about the treatment of that parent’s child. The child was not allowed to ride the bust for a few days.

The next day, the parent, who was also an employee of the school, parked her car in the bus circle. The bus driver pulled her bus up directly behind the parked car and was blocked in by the parked car. The parent approached the bus driver, still in her bus, loaded with children, and said “I told you I’m going to get you, bitch, don’t care, I don’t care where you at, if you’re on the school ground, if you’re in the school, or you’re in the grocery store,” “[I’m going to] [f]uck you up.” Her arms were crossed.

Bus driver calls school officials and the police stating that this parent was “harassing her saying that she’s going to pull her off the bus and beat her up.” All this while, the parent was a few feet from the bus, cursing at the bus driver, until the principal arrived.

Later that day, the bus driver was assigned to the after school activity pick up. This parent again stood outside the bus door and said “Bitch, like I say, I’m going to get you.” The bus driver closed the bus door and stayed inside the bus instead of getting out.

The parent was charged and convicted of assault, and appealed the matter to the Court of Appeals.

Assault is not defined in the Virginia Code. Rather, Virginia looks to the common law definition of assault. Generally speaking, however, an assault occurs under the traditional criminal definition “when an assailant engages in an overt act intended to inflict bodily harm and has the present ability to inflict such harm.” Carter, 269 Va. at 47, 606 S.E.2d at 841. An assault occurs under the merged tort law definition when an assailant “engages in an overt act intended to place the victim in fear or apprehension of bodily harm and creates such reasonable fear or apprehension in the victim.” Id. Whatever the definition, the law is clear that words are never enough to constitute an assault.

Under the criminal definition of assault, the overt act must have been committed with the actual ” inten[t] to inflict bodily harm” and the perpetrator must have a present ability to inflict such harm; under the tort law definition, by contrast, the overt act may be committed merely with the “inten[t] to place the victim in fear or apprehension of bodily harm” where the act “creates such reasonable fear or apprehension in the victim.”

The court found that the parent’s physically blocking both the bus and bus driver by not allowing the bus driver to get out of the bus in the afternoon, indicated appellant’s intent to make good on her threat supported the parent’s conviction for assault.