Criminal Assault Laws

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 What is Criminal Assault and Battery Law?

Assault and battery are actions that are prohibited by criminal laws. In criminal law, assault refers to a criminal act of intentionally placing another individual in reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm or an offensive contact.

The definition of assault may vary based on the jurisdiction. Examples of assault may include:

  • Attempting to spit on another individual;
  • Miming the act of hitting, punching, or kicking another individual;
  • Brandishing a deadly or non-deadly weapon in a manner that suggests the individual will be hit with that object; and
  • Pointing a gun at the victim, regardless of whether or not it is loaded.

Most jurisdictions treat assault and battery as separate offenses. Battery is an unlawful application of force to another individual which results in bodily injury or offensive contact.

The main difference between assault and battery is that battery involves actual contact; assault may not involve actual contact but gives the victim the reasonable belief they are in danger of imminent harm, even if no physical injury occurs. For example, if an individual throws a baseball at another individual with the intent of scaring them and the baseball hits the individual in the face, the individual who threw the ball could be charged with criminal battery or sued for civil battery.

Both assault and battery are taken very seriously by the criminal justice system. If convicted, a defendant may be sentenced to jail or prison or be required to pay criminal fines.

While assault and battery are separate offenses in some jurisdictions, others have merged the two into one single offense. Hence the well-known phrase assault and battery. Additionally, some states consider certain aggravating circumstances for both the charging and sentencing guidelines for these offenses to ensure that the punishment or remedy fits the level of the crime committed.

Are Civil Assault Cases the Same as Criminal Assault Cases?

The legal definitions of criminal assault and civil assault are very similar. Both types of assault require that a defendant create a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm and that the defendant intended such an apprehension to occur.

The two types of assault vary greatly in how their legal proceedings occur. In a civil assault case, the individual, or plaintiff, must file their complaint in a civil court and hire their own attorney to present their case. In a civil assault, the plaintiff usually seeks a remedy such as a monetary damages award or injunctive relief. The defendant in a civil law court will not be sentenced to jail time but may be required to pay monetary damages to the plaintiff.

In addition, the burden of proof in a civil assault case is different than in a criminal case. It would be considered a lower standard to meet. In a civil case, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed the assault. Preponderance of the evidence essentially means that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the offense.

In a criminal assault law case, the charges against the defendant are brought by the state. A criminal assault case is filed in criminal court. The district attorney or other legal representative of the state will present the case against the defendant as opposed to the plaintiff’s privately hired counsel.

In a criminal assault case, the state must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense. The standard in criminal proceedings is higher because of the serious punishment a defendant can receive, which may include jail or prison time, fines, or probation.

Is There a Difference Between Criminal Assault and Battery?

Criminal assault is typically defined in one of two ways: either as the intent to commit a criminal battery, or as the intentional creation, other than by mere words, of a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm in the mind of the victim. Criminal assault charges may be brought against a defendant who engages in either type of behavior.

The intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm means that the defendant intended to make the victim believe that immediate bodily harm was about to be inflicted upon them. A common example is when a defendant is holding a deadly weapon and pointing it at the victim in a manner which causes the victim to believe they will be harmed.

One of the key elements of criminal assault is that the victim’s apprehension of the impending harm creates a sense of immediate danger. It cannot be an apprehension of an event that will occur in the future.

Criminal battery, on the other hand, is defined as the unlawful application of force to another that results in bodily injury of an offensive touching. The physical contact does not have to be intentional but actual contact must occur in order for the offense to be considered battery.

What is an Aggravated Assault and Battery?

The majority of states have enacted statutes that elevate assault and battery charges and their corresponding punishments when extraordinary circumstances exist. If these conditions are met, a defendant may be charged with the more serious crime of aggravated assault or battery.

Factors that may permit a charge of aggravated assault or battery include:

  • If the suspect used a weapon during the assault, for example, a gun;
  • If the victim is what is legally considered a vulnerable person, including children, pregnant women, and elderly individuals; and
  • If the victim sustained severe harm or a serious and long-lasting injury.

When these elements are involved, a prosecutor will consider raising the charges. In the event that a victim dies from their injuries, the defendant will likely be charged with manslaughter or murder will likely be the charge that is applied.

How are Assault and Battery Crimes Punished?

As previously noted, each jurisdiction has their own sentencing guidelines for when an individual is convicted of assault or battery. A first time offender who commits a simple, non-threatening offense may be sentenced to a short time in jail as well as community service or probation. The more serious the offense, the more serious the punishment will be.

For individuals who have committed more severe offenses that cause significant injury to the victim, a conviction will likely result in prison time. Additionally, if the charges against the defendant were for an aggravated offense, the sentence will be longer.

It is important to note that each element of the assault or battery charge must be proven. The alleged perpetrator must have intended to commit an assault or a battery. If the defendant can demonstrate that they did not have the required intent, they cannot be convicted of assault or battery.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Assault and Battery Charges?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer for any assault and battery offenses or charges in which you may be involved. Although a criminal defendant may be appointed a lawyer by the state, it is recommended that you hire your own defense counsel.

If you select your own attorney, you will likely feel more comfortable which may lead to a better professional relationship and a better outcome for your case. If you are facing criminal assault or battery charges, your attorney can advise you of your rights, help you through the process, and represent you in court, if necessary. Your lawyer can help negotiate a plea bargain, if available in your case.


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