Assault and Battery Charges

assault-and-battery-chargesAssault is both a crime and a tort, and, therefore, may result in either criminal or civil liability.  Battery is a criminal offense and is oftentimes coupled with criminal assault; and as such, the two acts are considered to be two elements of the same crime.  In essence, an assault involves the threat or attempt to cause injury to another, and battery is the actual harmful contact inflicted by a perpetrator upon a victim.  For example, waving your fist at someone from a few feet away is assault; actually hitting someone with your fist is battery.  Assault and battery charges can be simple, usually a misdemeanor, or aggravated by circumstances, raising it to the level of a felony.

The act of battery (the actus reus) is physical injury or offensive touching of another person.  The amount of harm required to qualify a crime as a battery varies, with some states including intimate fondling or a spit in the face as acts constituting a battery.  The state of mind (mens rea) element of battery is the intent to injure or offensively touch another.  Battery mens rea is negated when the intent to make harmful contact is justifiable.  For example, pushing someone back from a bridge rail to prevent the person from jumping off would not make you guilty of battery.   Also, the consent assumed in contact sports where injury might occur in the playing of the game does not constitute battery.

While battery may be committed recklessly, assault involves purposeful intent.  In fact, one type of assault is actually an attempted battery, where the intent is obviously to commit the battery.  Thus, assault is considered an inchoate crime (an incomplete crime) because during an assault the battery is not completed and there is no injury.  According to some state statues, the victim may not even be aware of the attempt in order for a charge of assault to be made.  Another type of assault is threatened battery, where the intent is to frighten the victim.  Though no physical injury occurs, this is a complete crime because generally, the victim knows of the threat and does, in fact, fear serious injury as a result of the threat.  Words alone do not form assault, particularly if they are conditional or if the threat is not an immediate one.

Aggravated assault and aggravated battery are felonies that carry severe penalties in the criminal justice system.  An aggravating circumstance must accompany the assault or battery for the crime to escalate to an aggravated state.  An aggravated crime occurs when there is serious, or grave, intent on the part of the defendant, or when the defendant uses extraordinarily dangerous means in the perpetration of the assault or battery.  An aggravated assault is committed when a defendant intends to do more than merely frighten the victim.  Common types of aggravated assaults are those accompanied by intent to kill, rob, or rape.  An assault with a dangerous weapon is aggravated if there is intent to cause serious harm.  Pointing an unloaded gun at a victim to frighten the individual is not considered an aggravated assault, but is a simple assault.  When a battery is committed with intent to do serious harm or murder, or when it is done with a dangerous weapon, it is classified as aggravated.  A weapon is considered dangerous whenever the purpose for using it is to cause death or do serious harm.

Federal statutes are designed to enhance the penalties and punishment for an aggravated assault or battery.  In addition to statutes that increase punishments for aggravated assaults and batteries, there are special assault and battery statutes designed to enhance the punishment for assault and battery if the offense is committed against particular people, for example police officers, the elderly, and minors.  Federal assault prosecutions, like federal homicide prosecutions, are rare because federal laws only establish jurisdiction over forcible resistance or interference with, or assault upon, officers of the United States, on foreign officers, and within maritime and territorial areas, 18 U.S.C.A. § 111-113.

Because every completed battery includes assault, a defendant committing a battery usually cannot be separately convicted for an assault.  However, when the degrees of the assault and battery charges differ, there can be two separate convictions for the two offenses, with the possibility of serving two different penalties for a single criminal incident.

The penalties for criminal assault and battery convictions include imprisonment or jail time, probation or parole, mandatory anger management class, and significant fines.

Defenses for assault and battery charges include insufficient evidence (the most common being an absence of the intent to harm the person), a claim of defending others or defending property by using reasonable force, provocation, intoxication, and insanity.  In general, these defenses serve most often to lower the charge to a lesser one as opposed to discharging the charge altogether.

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