In both criminal and civil law, battery is any intentional act of touching or applying force to another person in a harmful or offensive manner, without their consent to do so. The term covers a wide range of physical contacts with each state maintaining specific statutes governing battery.
Generally, battery will result in misdemeanor criminal charges. As such, battery is typically punishable by criminal fees, and less than one year spent in jail. More serious forms of battery could result in more serious legal consequences, such as felony charges instead of simple misdemeanor charges.
Battery and assault are often mentioned together, but there are distinct differences between the two terms. Simply put, assault only involves the threat of harm, whereas battery entails actual physical contact between the assailant and the victim. While battery refers to any intentional act that causes harmful or offensive contact, assault is based on the threat of battery, or causing another person to fear or be apprehensive of an impending or immediate battery.
Most commonly, assault happens before a battery, and the defendant may be charged with both assault and battery. Some jurisdictions further define assault as an attempted battery, or as the intentional creation of fear of harm in the victim.
Battery charges are often grouped with assault charges to form a single charge labeled assault and battery. Every state has criminal statutes for assault and battery, meaning that both acts may result in prosecution by state courts resulting in fines and jail time. Additionally, many criminal statutes may vary regarding the specific conduct and intent necessary for prosecution as a crime.
There can be different types of battery based on the state and its laws. Typically, these types are classified according to the class of the victim, such as:
- Battery against a police officer;
- Battery against a child;
- Battery against a spouse; or
- Battery against an elderly person.
Depending on the victim’s class, the battery charges may be considered aggravated charges. This means that they will result in felony charges as opposed to misdemeanor charges. Some examples of this would be battery against a woman, a child, or a police officer, and battery involving the use of a deadly weapon. Battery can be further classified into different categories such as:
- Simple Battery: Simple battery refers to any unauthorized contact or use of force against another individual, resulting in offensive touching or injury;
- Aggravated Battery: As mentioned before, aggravated battery is battery against a victim belonging to a specific class. Aggravated battery can also refer to battery resulting in severe injury, or when the defendant utilized a deadly weapon. In most jurisdictions, the defendant needs to have intended to cause injury or harm in order to be charged with aggravated battery; and
- Medical Battery: Nearly all states have laws requiring that doctors obtain informed consent from the patient before providing non emergency treatment. Medical battery refers to the unauthorized touching or handling of a patient’s body by a doctor or other medical professional.
As previously mentioned, the difference between criminal and civil battery is a matter of intent. The defendant must have intended to cause harm to the victim in order to be charged with criminal battery, whereas civil battery requires that the defendant only intended to perform the act which then caused injury or harm. Civil battery is an intentional tort; even though the defendant may not have intended to cause injury, they still had the knowledge that the act could result in harm to the victim.
Regardless of the outcome of a criminal trial, the plaintiff may file a civil suit against the defendant for compensatory damages as assessed by a jury, even if the harm experienced by the victim was not major. Although the exact wording of what constitutes civil battery varies by state, typically the elements of civil battery are:
- The intent to commit the act, even if there was no intent to cause injury;
- Making non-consensual contact; and
- The harm which resulted from the contact includes physical harm, mental harm, and emotional harm.
Some defenses to battery may include:
- Self defense;
- Defense of others; and
- Lack of evidence.
The availability of any defense is dependent upon the nature of the criminal charges, and the facts of each specific case. An example of this would be if the defendant never actually intended to strike or make contact with the victim; in this type of situation, they may not be found guilty of criminal battery. However, they may still face civil charges.
If you are in any situation involving battery, you should immediately consult a well-qualified and knowledgeable criminal law attorney in your area. An experienced attorney can inform you of your state’s laws and statutes, as well as help you determine your best course of legal action Additionally, the attorney will also represent you in court as needed.