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What is Assault and Battery?

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Assault and battery are criminal charges that can be levied against a person who threatens to, attempts to, or actually injures another person. If you are charged with criminal assault and battery, you can be subject to criminal penalties up-to-and-including jail time. In many jurisdictions, a victim of assault and battery can also bring a civil suit. A civil suit is a private lawsuit in which the victim of the assault and battery sues the perpetrator for monetary compensation. Both civil and criminal charges can be brought against you for the same assault and battery.

Definition of Assault and Battery

Assault has several different definitions depending on the jurisdiction. In some states, if you threaten harm, have the intent to carry out that harm, and the victim reasonably believes you are capable of committing the harm, you can be charged with assault. In other jurisdictions, if you try to harm a person you can be charged with assault even if the victim is unaware of the threatened action and you are unsuccessful. In other jurisdictions, assault is defined as any unwanted touching. If you touch a person without permission, and/or cause harm to that person, you can be charged with assault. Intent is not required in the third definition; if you do an action that is reasonably likely to harm another person and someone gets hurt, you can be charged with assault. This is true even if the victim wasn't the intended victim.

Battery, on the other hand, requires actual physical contact. Battery is defined as the unwanted physical touching of another person. There are several different types of battery. Under the common law definition, any unwanted touching was considered battery. In most jurisdictions, battery now requires intent to do the unwanted touching. In order for a battery charge to be brought against you, you usually must touch your victim in an offensive manner and you must either know that the touching is unwanted or behave recklessly in such a manner that causes the unwanted touching.

Potential Penalties

The potential penalties vary depending on the severity of the threat and the type of unwanted touching. The charges range from misdemeanor to felony charges, with more severe potential penalties possible if you commit felony assault and battery. Some states also recognize "aggravated" assault and battery, which involves threats and/or attempts to cause harm using a deadly weapon. Even in jurisdictions that do not recognize aggravated assault and battery, more stringent penalties exist if you threaten to or actually harm a person with a gun or knife then if you threaten to or harm a person with a rock or a stick.

Relationship Between Assault and Battery

Assault and battery charges usually go hand-in-hand. If you cause physical harm to another person, or "batter," them, usually that person is reasonably afraid of the harm that is coming to them. This fear is the catalyst for the assault charges.

However, assault charges can be brought independently of battery charges, and battery charges can be brought independently of assault charges. For example, an assault can occur if you threaten to harm someone, intend to do so, and the person reasonably believes you will harm him, but you do not actually harm him.

Battery, on the other hand, can occur without assault if the person had no reason to fear the impending harm. This can occur if a doctor performs an unwanted procedure on a patient without the patient's consent when the patient is unconscious. In this situation, if the statutory law defining assault and battery defines assault as a threat to harm that causes fear, battery exists independently of assault. The patient was unconscious, so they had no opportunity to fear the action, but an unwanted touching still occurred and so battery charges are appropriate.

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