Assault and Battery

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While assault and battery are often charged together, these two terms have very different meanings. Additional a criminal charge of assault or battery carries with it a different definition and burden of proof than a civil complaint of either act. Knowing the difference between these terms can help you protect your legal interests.

Criminal Assault

Criminal assault is defined under state law. It is typically the lesser of the two charges. Assault typically involves threatening another person with an act of violence with the physical ability to follow through with the specific threat. This charge does not rely on whether the perpetrator actually followed through with the threat. The crime itself is prefaced on the threat itself. Committing this crime can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances and state law. Felony charges are more likely to arise when the victim is threatened with a deadly weapon or when aggravated assault occurs. A conviction of a felony may result in a long term of imprisonment and/or large fines.

Criminal Battery

While assault does not depend on whether the victim actually suffered harm, criminal battery does. Battery occurs when the threat is carried through. Battery can result when another person is touched, groped or injured in an unwanted fashion. This crime tends to be more serious than assault because it involves the actual infliction of harm onto a victim. In most states, the battery does not have to be severe enough that it leaves a mark. Sexual abuse typically qualifies as criminal battery.

Assault and Battery Charges

Being charged with assault and battery can result in long-term consequences if convicted. This set of criminal charges makes it more serious because of the potential of being convicted of two serious, separate crimes at one time. When a defendant is facing charges for battery, he or she will also usually be facing assault charges. However, a defendant who did not inflict harm on another person may only be charged with assault.

To protect their legal interests, a defendant being charged with either or both of these crimes may wish to consult with a criminal defense attorney. He or she may formulate a defense strategy based on the weaknesses in the case. These cases often rely primarily on the victimís account of events. A criminal defense attorney may review the evidence to determine any legal arguments against the admissibility of evidence. He or she may also negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution if this is in the defendantís best interest.

Civil Complaint

In addition to any potential criminal consequences, a defendant may also face a civil complaint regarding assault or battery. In a civil case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, the person who is bringing the lawsuit. He or she must be able to prove each element of the case by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that things more than likely than not happened as the plaintiff said. Assault and battery are both considered intentional torts, distinct from a claim of negligence.

If the civil complaint is successful, the defendant may be required to pay money damages for his or her actions. Compensatory damages may be ordered, which include economic costs of the defendantís actions, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Punitive damages may also be ordered, which are money damages awarded for particularly egregious actions on the part of the defendant. These damages are awarded when the judge or jury wishes to punish the defendant and deter future conduct. In some states these damages are awarded to the victim while in others they become part of a victim recovery fund.

Civil Assault

Assault is often defined as an intentional attempt or threat to cause injury to another person with the ability to carry out this threat that causes the victim to suffer a reasonable apprehension of harm or offensive contact. The apprehension must be reasonable from an objective viewpoint. Additionally, the threat must be regarding an imminent harm. It is not enough for a defendant to threaten harm sometime in the distant future. The victim must be aware of this threat in order for him to be able to prove these elements.

Civil Battery

In contrast to civil assault, civil battery does require actual contact between the defendant and the victim. The elements of battery include the defendantís intent to cause unwanted or offensive contact and he or she does cause such contact.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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