Street Fights: What is the Police Procedure in the US?

It is illegal to get engaged in street fights in the US. 

Street fights involve hand-to-hand combat, either between gangs or individuals. This mostly happens in public spaces like parks, streets, nightclubs, and pubs. Street fights can sometimes result in serious injuries or even death. 

A typical situation may involve two men enjoying a drink, getting into an argument, and the fight escalates to a physical fight. 

Street fights are illegal, with attendant consequences as they are considered assault. An assault charge means that you have put your fighting partner/s and citizens within the area at risk of bodily harm.  

In this article, we will explore street fights and the police procedure in the US. 

Characteristics of street fights

Street fights can occur suddenly or they may be planned. In street fights, especially the planned ones, they usually involve weapons, such as guns and knives. Unplanned street fights will usually be hand-to-hand.  

Street fights can start due to disagreements, resentment, fear, and anger, whether intentional or unintentional. Many street fights don’t last long; usually, they run for seconds or minutes, but the results can be fatal. Additionally, you can’t easily predict the outcome of a street fight.

However, whether unintentional or intentional, the outcome of a street fight can dramatically change once weapons are introduced. 

Understanding police procedure on street fights

Police take street fights seriously, and like other crimes, they follow a strict procedure to ensure deescalation, proper arrest and investigation.  

To legally arrest street fighters, police follow several procedures to ensure the offenders’ rights are protected.

However, many states have additional policies to ensure the physical safety of police officers and the public, assist the officer in avoiding making legal mistakes and to help police get arrest documents on time. 

After the police get information about a street fight, the first step is to de-escalate the situation by separating the fighters and stopping the scuffle. The officers will then assess the situation for injuries and request for medical help, should it be required. 

The next step is to detain and arrest the fighters and collect evidence. The police can arrest street fighters without a warranty since they have:

  • Committed a severe crime (assault)
  • Caused a public disturbance
  • Are an imminent danger to the public

Arrest procedure

Once arrested, you cannot leave. Attempting to leave can expose you to further criminal charges. 

Additionally, police must follow a procedure to ensure the safety of the public, the officers and the fighters. The police officers must:

  • Identify themselves
  • Inform you that they have arrested you
  • Tell you their reason for arresting you
  • Take physical control of the offender/s. This can be as simple as placing their hands on your shoulder.
  • Inform you of your rights, including the right to a lawyer.
  • Handcuff you and then put you in a police vehicle 
  • Do a further search in your body or car 
  • Take you to the police station for further questioning

Since during street fights arrests happen fast, the offender doesn’t have enough time to look for a legal representative. It’s advisable to heed and remain quiet as the police recite the Miranda warnings for you.

Booking procedure

After the arrest, you will be taken into police custody, stationhouse, or local precinct. 

At this point, the identification process starts; they take your photograph and fingerprints. This enables the police to search their databases and determine if you have prior arrests, convictions and a criminal record. 

Further, they will find out about your residence, immigration status, health, and employment status. 

Note: As a standard procedure, this usually happens without the presence of your attorney and refusing to cooperate can lead to further problems.  

Charging procedure

Once the booking procedure is finished, you might be released with a warning, especially if you are a first time offender with no criminal history and have not caused a lot of harm. However, if the street fight caused considerable harm to people and property, you will be held at the station house. 

Collecting evidence

Sometimes when a street fight becomes fatal, the police may need to look for more evidence and take samples like fingerprints. Evidence collected may include witness encounters, CCTV footage, and photographs of the injuries.

The police might request the witnesses to pick out the culprit through video identification parade electronic recordings (VIPER) in witness encounters. With VIPER, the witness doesn’t have to avail themselves at the station. They can view the video from home or at a place of their choice. 

What happens after arrest, booking and charging?

Since street fighting is illegal, you may face prosecution. The police may ask for guidance and advice from the state public prosecution office to help them do further investigation. 

The public prosecution service will give a way forward on the evidence needed, if the collected evidence is enough, and the applicable charges. This can range from a public disturbance, to a simple or aggravated assault. 

Because the circumstances surrounding street fights vary greatly, it’s advisable to consult experienced criminal lawyers with a track record of working on public disturbance and assault offenses. 

Applicable charges for street fighting

Simple assault

An individual may commit assault if they:

  • Recklessly, knowingly or intentionally causes bodily injury to another person
  • Knowingly or intentionally cause people to reasonably undergo fear of imminent body injury
  • Intentionally and knowingly cause physical contact that is provocative or highly offensive 

Aggravated assault

Aggravated assault charges may be laid when a street fight involves:

  • Death of a person
  • Seriously bodily injury
  • Display and use of weapons like firearms and knives
  • Attempted strangulation or strangulation

Penalties for street fight: Assault

Simple assault falls under Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by one-year imprisonment or a $2,500 fine. 

Physical contact assault falls under Class B misdemeanor, and it attracts six months in jail or a fine of $500.

Aggravated assault charges fall under Class D and Class C felonies depending on whether it was reckless or intentional. 

Class C felony: the accused receives 3-25 years sentence and a $10,000 fine since the act was intentional or they might have failed to protect a disabled adult or a child. 

Class D felony: Under this category, the act was reckless, and it results in 2-12 years sentence with a fine of $ 5,000.00

Penalties for a street fight: Public disturbance

During the street fight, the fighters cause disturbance in public places by 

  • Screaming
  • Fighting
  • Shouting
  • Swearing 
  • Using obscene or insulting language  
  • Discharging firearms

Public disturbance has a wide range of penalties and may fall under felony charges, infractions, or misdemeanors.

Jail: the jail term may range from 60 days for a misdemeanor and one year or more for a felony conviction and probation and fines. 

Fines: Fines may range from $100 for a first offense to $2,000 for repeated offenses or egregious actions and felony convictions. 

Probation: Probation may last for six months and comes with certain conditions like informing the police once stopped that you are on probation,regular  reporting to your probation officer, community duty, house arrest, among others. 

Final thoughts on police procedure on street fights in the US

Street fights are not the way to settle scores. Your planned or unplanned actions can lead to severe consequences. 

It’s advisable to avoid street fights to protect yourself from harm or finding yourself on the wrong side of the law. 

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