Battery: Civil and Criminal Consequences

When a person is the aggressor in a battery case, he or she may be subject to criminal charges. He or she may also be subject to a civil complaint.


The purpose of criminal charges and a civil lawsuit are supported by different goals. In a criminal case, the government seeks justice for the victim. Criminal statutes specify what type of behavior is subject to punishment. Prosecutors seek to punish the wrongdoer, deter similar conduct in the future and keep balanced order in the jurisdiction by pursuing criminal charges.

A civil complaint seeks redress on behalf of the person who has been wronged. Society recognizes the right of someone to pursue compensation for damages that he or she sustained that were caused by someone else.

Burden of Proof

In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the burden to show that the criminal defendant is guilty of the crime of battery. In a civil claim, the plaintiff is the one seeking redress, so he or she has the burden of presenting evidence to show that the defendant is guilty.

In criminal cases, there are certain elements that must be demonstrated according to the criminal statute. For a civil claim, the elements of the intentional tort of battery must be established, usually based on common law principles of battery. This usually requires showing that an offensive or harmful contact was intended and inflicted.

Standard of Proof

The standard of proof is different in criminal cases than it is in civil cases. The standard of proof in a criminal case is by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard that there is in the legal system. This is because criminal convictions have serious repercussions, including possible jail time, limitations on the defendant’s freedom and a criminal record that will follow him or her for the entirety of life.

In civil cases, the stakes are lower and so is the standard of proof. In civil cases the plaintiff need only prove his or her case by the preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not that all of the elements for the tort of battery were committed.

Inconsistent Results

Because there are different standards of proof involved in the case and different interests, it is possible that there may be inconsistent results. For example, the prosecutor may not believe that there is enough evidence to meet the higher standard of proof required in a criminal case so he or she may decide not to prosecute the case. However, this does not bar the victim’s right to pursue a civil claim against the defendant. Likewise, even if a defendant is found not guilty in a criminal case, this does not mean that he or she will not be found guilty in a civil case.


A defendant who is found guilty in both the criminal and civil cases may face a number of punishments. If a person is found guilty in the criminal case, he or she may face jail time, fines, community service, probation and other punishments imposed by the criminal court. If found guilty in the civil case, the jury often determines the damages that are awarded. Damages may include medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded. These are additional damages that are intended to punish the defendant for his or her wrongful conduct. Because battery is an intentional tort, punitive damages may be awarded if the jury believes that the defendant’s actions warrant this award.

Additional Charges

In many jurisdictions, assault and battery are considered two different offenses under both civil and criminal laws. Assault usually only requires that the victim be placed in apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. In battery cases, this contact must have occurred. Therefore, the defendant may be subject to both criminal and civil punishments for both offenses in many situations.

Legal Assistance

Individuals who are suspected of committing the crime or tort of battery may wish to contact a lawyer for assistance. A criminal defense lawyer provides legal representation to individuals who are charged with the crime of assault. Criminal defense lawyers investigate the case, challenge the evidence, present motions to the court and advise the defendant of his or her rights throughout the process. He or she may also negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea agreement that provides a reduced sentence or charge in exchange for a guilty plea. A personal injury lawyer provides legal representation to individuals who seek compensation on behalf of victims. Civil defense lawyers represent the defendant’s interests in these cases.

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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.
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