Can I get Arrested for Bar Fighting?

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on May 08, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Alright, most people have probably heard of Kiefer Sutherland's arrest by now. Yes, the star of FOX's long-running show "24", whose character Jack Bauer finds, chases, beats down, and/or tortures terrorists all over the world, apparently decided his next target would be fashion designer Jack McCullough at a nightclub. At any rate, Sutherland ended up getting arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, according to the AFP.

Although there doesn't appear to be any indication that the fight was mutual, people might be wondering about the legality of bar fights in the first place. After all, whether its TV or movies, for some reason you never see the police show up to, much less someone get arrested for, a bar fight. The poor bartender just ends up holding his hands on his head and gazing in dismay at a scene of shattered tables, barstools and mirrors as the combatants stumble on out. Well, just in case there is any doubt remaining, yes, you can very easily get arrested for a bar fight.

Bars are not anything-goes-zones and the criminal laws that apply on the street and everywhere else still apply inside, despite the possibility that a host of beers may have changed everyone's opinion on the subject. Also, the fact that it's a bar "fight" (which presumably would involve more than one drunken individual headbutting another), doesn't really change things either. The reality is that more than one party involved in a barfight can, and often do, get charged with assault.

So what if you're in a bar and someone, for no apparent reason, belligerently drops a headbutt on you? Well, self-defense can be an excuse in an assault case, but keep in mind that if we're talking about a bar fight, you're probably not gonna be free to pick up the nearest bottle, barstool and go to town on an attacker. Self-defense in many places is usually limited to the amount of force necessary to prevent serious injury to a person, and it usually has to be a last resort.

For these reasons, self-defense may be tough to establish in circumstances involving a mutual fight (or fights), and keep in mind that people's story about how a fight started, and who started it, tend to vary widely. As for Kiefer Sutherland, he would probably have been particularly wise to stay out his fight, if you can call it that, considering he was on probation for drunk driving.

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