Assault and battery are intentional torts, which means that both assault and battery are the result of an intentional act on the part of a tortfeasor (person who commits a tortious act). Because they are both torts, an assault or battery may serve as the basis for a civil lawsuit.
However, every state also has criminal statutes for assault and battery. This means that both acts can result in prosecution by state courts, which may result in fines and jail time for the aggressor.
Although both civil and criminal assault and battery share similar legal requirements of proof, many criminal statutes may vary the specific conduct and intent that is necessary to prosecute them as a crime. In short, an assault is an attempt or threat made by a person that puts another person in apprehension of imminent bodily harm, while battery is the act of making contact with another individual in a harmful or offensive manner.
Thus, battery is essentially the logical extension of an assault, or a completed assault. For example, picking up a pile of rocks and throwing them at a person, but not hitting them, is an assault; whereas, the actual physical contact of the rocks with the person’s body, is a battery.
What is Needed to Charge a Person with Assault and Battery?
As noted above, the requirements that need to be met to charge a person with assault and battery vary by jurisdiction. Further, the requirements needed to prosecute someone criminally for assault and battery differ from the requirements necessary needed to prove a civil case. This means it is important to consult with your local jurisdicitoon’s civil and criminal statutes before bringing a civil or criminal case against someone.
- There must be an intentional attempt or threat to inflict injury on a person. This means that words alone, like saying “I am going to hurt you,” are often not enough to constitute an assault, unless the aggressor backs them up with an action that puts the victim in reasonable fear of imminent harm, such as picking up and brandishing a weapon;
- The harm threatened must be apparent. This means that threatened harm must be possible, meaning that calling someone on the phone from a different state and threatening to punch them would be insufficient; and
- The victim must be in reasonable apprehension or fear of imminent bodily harm. For example, if a person that weighed 100lbs told a professional heavyweight boxer that they were going to punch them in the face, the professional boxer may not be in fear of imminent contact, because the person might be non-threatening to them.
Unlike assault, battery requires the defendant make physical contact with the victim. Similarly to assault, the elements required to prove civil battery are typically the same as for criminal battery. In order to succeed in a civil suit for battery, you must typically prove the following elements:
- That there was a harmful or offensive intentional act made by a defendant;
- That resulted in a touching or application of force to another person; and
- Without that person’s consent or permission.
Importantly, there is no requirement that the defendant must intend to have made physical contact with the victim for a battery to occur; only that they intended to cause imminent apprehension of fear of physical harm in the victim that resulted in contact.
For example, suppose that a person throws a baseball at someone across a field in order to scare them. If that baseball ends up hitting that person in the face, would likely be charged with battery or sued for civil battery.
What Can I Do if I Am a Victim of an Assault and Battery?
Most importantly, if you are in a situation where you have suffered from an assault or battery, you should immediately contact the police and file a report for your safety. Often, criminal assaults and batteries will result in the victim obtaining a temporary restraining order or emergency protective order, in order to protect them from any future attempts of assault or battery made by the defendant.
Further, a police report will be useful as evidence to prove fault for any civil claim made by the victim to recover from damages suffered from an assault or battery.
Additionally, if you have suffered from an assault or battery, you may be eligible to receive funds from the “Victim Compensation Fund.” Victim compensation funds are provided through a government program in order to reimburse victims of violent crimes, such as assault or battery, as well as their families for out-of-pocket expenses and medical bills.
Every state has some sort of victim compensation program; thus, it is important to look up the requirements for receiving funds through your local state’s program. Typically, victim compensation funds will pay for medical and dental expenses, lost wages, counseling costs, or in severe cases funeral or burial expenses.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Charged with Assault and Battery?
If you have been charged with assault and battery, you should immediately contact a well qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the legal process and help you assert any possible defenses.
If you have been civilly sued for assault or battery, you will likely be facing a demand made by a person for monetary compensation for their injuries. This means that you will have to legally respond to a civil lawsuit, once served, typically within 30 days, and deny the charges or assert any defenses available to you. For example, one defense available may be that the person consented to you touching them, such as in a game of football or martial arts.
However, if you there is a criminal claim brought against you, you may be faced with criminal fines, jail time, or both. It is very important to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately in these matters. In most cases, you may have already been arrested for criminal assault and battery, and charges will be brought against you.
Typically, the criminal process is that you will first be arrested or taken into police custody; then you will be booked, or entered into the police system and placed in a holding cell. Next, you may be able to post bail; then an arraignment will be held and you will be read your criminal charges and be asked to enter your plea. Finally, if there is no plea bargain a preliminary hearing will be held where a judge will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime.
It is important to note that both civil and criminal charges may be brought against you simultaneously, therefore, it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney and/or a personal injury defense attorney immediately to help you navigate the legal process of both claims.
Can I Be Sued by the Victim for an Assault and Battery?
As noted above, a battery is the logical extension of an assault. Many jurisdictions define assault as an attempted battery, or as the intentional creation of a fear of imminent harm in the victim. Thus, battery charges are almost always brought concurrently with assault into a single charge or claim, often referred to as assault and battery. However, different elements must be proven by the victim for each claim.
Thus, it is important to note the different requirement for assault and battery. For example, if you were recklessly swinging a bat around, and you made contact with the back of a person’s head, meaning they were not in fear of imminent harm because they could not see you, they may succeed on their claim of battery, but not on their claim of assault.
What are Some Civil and Criminal Defenses to an Assault and Battery Charge?
In both civil and criminal cases, a person who has committed an assault or battery might not be held liable for doing so, if certain defenses apply.
The following is a list of defenses that may apply to civil or criminal assault and battery charges:
- Self-Defense: The most well-known defense to assault and battery is that the defendant was acting in self-defense. This means that the defendant was the person initially attacked by the plaintiff and committed assault or battery to protect themselves. This may also open the plaintiff to a counter-suit for assault and battery by the defendant. Further, a person may also use reasonable force to defend another person in some cases;
- Privilege: Some defendants may have a privilege to commit an assault or battery in some cases. For example, police officers have a privilege to use force to place a suspect under arrest;
- Consent: In some cases a plaintiff may have consented to being in a place where the plaintiff would be assaulted or touched. For example, if the plaintiff was actively participating in a contract sport or at a sports event where the possibility of being hit by an object was a known risk, such as at a baseball game; or
- Denial of Elements: As noted above, a victim must be able to prove all of the required elements of an assault and battery. Thus, when a defendant disproves one of the required elements, the charges or claims against them will fail.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with Assault and Battery Claims?
If you are a victim of an assault or battery, you should first immediately contact your local authorities in order to ensure your protection from any future acts. After doing so, if you wish to sue your aggressor civilly to recover for the damages you sustained, it is in your best interests to contact a personal injury attorney to help guide you through the legal process necessary to successfully bring and recover from a civil lawsuit.
If you have been sued for civil assault or battery, you should consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable personal injury defense attorney to evaluate if the claims made against you have merit and help you assert any available defenses you may have. Further, they will be able to represent you in a court of law, if necessary.
If you have been charged with criminal assault or battery, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. They will be able to help you assert any available defense to the charges brought against you, defend you in court, and guide you through the entire criminal process. A court-appointed attorney may also be provided to assist you.