Battery Law


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What is Battery Law?

Battery law deals with the consequences of touching another person in a harmful or offensive manner. The act of battery is both a crime and a tort, meaning the government can seek to convict offenders and have them punished, and victims can bring private lawsuits to collect monetary damages. The crime of simple battery is typically charged as a misdemeanor. Criminal cases involving serious injury and batteries committed on children or vulnerable adults can be charged as aggravated felonies. Tort cases rely on the same principles used in criminal court, although a lower burden of proof applies.

Battery Distinguished from Assault

Battery is closely related to assault. In fact, the two offenses are so similar that they often create confusion. Assault occurs when the victim is placed in apprehension of contact, while battery refers to the contact itself. Thus, whether either or both of the offenses can be established depends upon the victim’s awareness of the threat of contact, and whether contact is in fact made. The two offenses can, but need not always, occur together.

For example, if the defendant raises his fist as though to strike the victim in the nose, he has committed assault. If the defendant follows through and strikes the victim in the nose, he is guilty of both assault and battery. Conversely, if the defendant raises his first as though to strike the victim in the back of the head (without the victim’s awareness), he has committed neither assault nor battery. If he follows through and strikes the victim in the back of the head, he has committed battery only.

The Prima Facie Case

Prima facie is a Latin phrase meaning “at first appearance.” It refers to the basic elements that must be established in order for a case to stand. If the government or a tort plaintiff cannot prove the prima facie elements of battery, then the case against the defendant will be thrown out of court. This makes it critically important for all parties involved in a battery case to understand the prima facie elements of the offense.

There are four elements to battery: 1) a harmful or offensive touching; 2) to the victim’s person; 3) intent; and 4) causation. The first element, a harmful or offensive touching, is judged based on a reasonable person standard. In other words, contact that is acceptable to a reasonable person, such as being brushed up against on a crowded commuter train, will not qualify as battery, even if the victim is uniquely sensitive to such contact. Of course, the result may change if the defendant was previously aware of the victim’s sensitivity, and purposefully made contact anyway.

The second element of a prima facie case of battery requires that the touching occur to the victim’s person. This includes anything attached to the victim, such as clothing or a backpack. Indirect contact will also qualify. With respect to the third element, the defendant must only have had a general intent to make contact with the victim. There is no need to prove a specific intent to cause harm. Finally, the element of causation simply requires that the victim’s injury can be traced back to the defendant’s actions. The element of causation rules out cases involving odd factual scenarios, like when the defendant accidently sets in motion an unlikely chain of events that culminates in a battery.

Conspicuously absent from the elements of battery is a requirement that the victim suffer damages. In other types of cases, like negligence, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct caused the victim to suffer a measurable loss. Battery does not require this. For example, a person who spit on someone has committed a battery, even if the person spit upon did not suffer any physical, financial, or emotional harm. Courts in such cases often award nominal or “token” damages, as well as punitive damages meant to punish the defendant, rather than to compensate the victim.

Affirmative Defenses

Once a prima facie case has been established, the defendant will have an opportunity to present defenses in order to justify or excuse the battery. Consent of the victim is perhaps the most common defense in these cases. A victim can expressly consent, by signing a waiver prior to engaging in a dangerous sport, for example. Consent can also be implied from the victim’s conduct. For instance, throwing a snowball at the defendant may be construed as giving implied consent to have a snowball thrown back. Additional defenses include privilege, necessity, self-defense, and the defense of other people or property.

Battery Law Attorneys

If you have been charged with the crime of battery, you need a competent attorney to investigate the facts of your case and develop a legal strategy to defeat the allegations. If you are a tort plaintiff, you will benefit from an attorney as well, as proving liability in battery cases can be a complicated matter.

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Battery Law - US

  • Battery - Overview

    The difference between battery as a crime and battery as a civil tort is merely in the type of intent required. A criminal battery requires the presence of mens rea, or a criminal intent to do wrong, i.e., to cause a harmful or offensive contact. Accordingly, a defendant found guilty of the crime of battery is often sued by the defendant in a civil action for the same offense/incident.

  • Battery - Wikipedia

    Battery is the criminal offense whereby one party makes physical contact with another party with the intention to harm them. In order to constitute battery, an offense must be intentional and must be committed to inflict injury on another. Battery is different from a similar offense called assault. An assault is any attempt to threaten or attack another party. Physical contact is not required to constitute an assault.

  • Difference between Assault and Battery

    Two separate offenses against the person that when used in one expression may be defined as any unlawful and unpermitted touching of another. Assault is an act that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent, harmful, or offensive contact. The act consists of a threat of harm accompanied by an apparent, present ability to carry out the threat. Battery is a harmful or offensive touching of another.

Battery Law - Europe

  • Crime Victims in the European Union

    More and more people are travelling, living or studying abroad and are therefore potential victims of crimes committed in a country other than their own. In May 1999, the European Commission adopted a communication entitled 'Crime victims in the European Union - standards and action' to improve access to justice for victims of crime in the European Union and to protect their rights. This communication deals with the prevention of victimisation, assistance to victims, the standing of victims in the criminal procedure and compensation. On 15 March 2001, the Council adopted a Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings with a view to harmonising basic rights for victims of crime within the all territory of the EU.

  • Offences Against the Person Act 1861 - Assault and Battery

    Assault and Battery are two different offences of common law. An assault is - "any act by which a person intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful ad personal violence." And a battery is - "any act by which a person, intentionally or recklessly inflicts unlawful personal violence upon another person."

Battery Law - International

Organizations Related to Battery Law

  • Legal Options for Victims - Victim Rights Law Center

    Founded as the first law center in the nation dedicated solely to serving the legal needs of sexual assault victims, the Victim Rights Law Center Advocates for sexual assault victims’ legal rights within the civil, academic and criminal justice systems. We not only give survivors the free legal services they need, but also work to make the legal system a more accessible and just system.

  • Ottawa Victim Services (OVS)

    Ottawa Victim Services (OVS) provides emotional support, practical assistance, referrals and advocacy to individuals who have been victimized as a result of a crime or tragic circumstance, without judgment in order to lessen the impact of victimization. OVS is a community-based agency committed to treating individuals with courtesy, compassion and with respect for their dignity, privacy and diversity.

  • The Survivors Club - Assault and Battery Support Center

    Every person is unique, but when you face a challenge like being a victim of assault and battery, you are never alone. Countless men, women and children have faced the exact same incident and have survived and thrived. The following guide is designed to help you navigate your journey with the best information and resources that helped other survivors when they faced the same challenge.

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