Behind the Brawl: Bar Fights and the Laws of PA & NJ

Posted July 15, 2023

  • Behind the Brawl: Bar Fights and the Laws of PA & NJ

Bar fights can certainly provide you and your friends with a good story from your Saturday night out on the town … so long as you are not involved. But what happens if you get carried away and find yourself brawling? In a bar fight, there is likely to be alcohol involved, but despite the feeling of invincibility that sometimes comes with a few too many drinks, the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey do still apply to this conduct – and there is no “intoxication” defense available.


When involved in a violent altercation anywhere, including at a bar, concert or festival, you leave yourself susceptible to being charged with assault. If the other party is injured, there is a possibility that they could press charges, the severity of which (i.e. gradation and resultant penalties) is determined by numerous factors (such as the extent of injuries sustained by the other party, the circumstances surrounding the incident and your level of aggression). In a bar, there are plenty of everyday objects that could easily become a ‘weapon’ (e.g. glasses, stools, beer bottles, etc.). If any of these weapons are utilized by you, you can be assured more serious charges will follow – given the potentiality for an increased risk of injury to the alleged victim. If the circumstances justify it, a “simple assault” could ascend from a misdemeanor to a more serious felony such as “aggravated assault.” Also, your chances of being diverted to a first offender’s program such as ARD or PTI could be eliminated.

Disorderly Conduct & Public Intoxication 

A disorderly conduct charge will likely appear on your permanent record – whether the conduct occurs in a bar or elsewhere. A fight is likely to cause chaos and alarm amongst other patrons. As such, in addition to an assault charge, you could also face disorderly conduct, harassment, trespass and/or public intoxication charges.

Bar fights are best left to movies and TV but, if you find yourself in a bar fight and subsequent trouble, you will need an experienced attorney to help you navigate through the legal process (even a “win” in a drunken bar room brawl could end up as a permanent “loss” for you).

If you find yourself in trouble after an altercation at a bar, concert or festival, please give me a call or send an email.

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