The act of two or more individuals engaging in physical violence that threatens public safety.
Affray stems from a combination of ‘fray’ – to fight or brawl – and ‘afraid’ – to scare or disturb. This is especially fitting for its legal definition, a fight that endangers or instills fear within the surrounding public.
A fight doesn't need to include violence for it to be considered an affray, however. A person can commit an affray simply by threatening others with a weapon in public. You may also find yourself being prosecuted for related offenses such as unlawful assembly, assault, and riot if you are engaged in an affray.
Physical violence is crucial for an offense to be considered an affray, as verbal threats alone don't constitute this offense. An affray can be committed in either private or public, so long as another bystander feels as though their safety is threatened. If there are multiple individuals committing violence against another, all individuals committing said violence would likely be jointly charged for the affray.
Affray Real World Example
In September of 2017, The Sun reported that twenty-seven-year-old English cricket player Ben Stokes was charged with affray, alongside two others, after a fight outside a Bristol nightclub. Stokes, however, pleaded not guilty, eventually appearing in court to stand trial in February of 2018. Despite having been recorded beating a man in public, Stokes was ultimately acquitted once more evidence came to light revealing he had been “coming to the aid of two gay men who were subjected to homophobic abuse,” according to The Sun.
Significance of Affray
Nightclubs and bars are common settings for where an affray might occur, but you may also see an affray offense charged to individuals involved in road rage, violent public demonstrations, or brawls where two or more others gang up on someone.
Throwing objects with the potential to harm into large crowds would be classified by many courts as disorderly conduct while wielding a weapon and threatening approaching police officers would also constitute or this offense. Likewise, criminals escaping police custody might also find themselves charged with affray, which is what happened with Janoris Jenkins of the New York Giants in 2009.
Types of Affray Penalties
While the definition of an affray is fairly similar wherever you go, the penalties for engaging in an affray varies. Here is how the punishment for this criminal offense differs between the UK and several states:
- United Kingdom: A statutory offense with up to three years of imprisonment or a fine or both.
- Texas: A Class C misdemeanor, resulting in a maximum $500 fine. If the offender discharges a firearm, then it counts as a Class B misdemeanor and could result in a $2000 maximum fine and potential jail time.
- Florida: First-degree misdemeanor with a $1000 maximum fine and one year of jail time.
An affray is not premeditated, unlike a riot, and neither individual has a lawful excuse to be engaged in violence. Another more common term for affray is disorderly conduct.