You’ve probably read a story in the newspaper about someone being charged with assault, while another person was charged with battery in the same incident.
Reading the details, you probably wondered why one person could face an assault charge while the other is facing battery, or why one is a felony and one is a misdemeanor. The truth is there are intricacies to these two counts that lead to police and prosecutors assessing one offense over the other.
Assault and Battery
When weighing battery vs assault, the main difference is in the actions that happen during a situation. An assault is an incident when someone threatens or attempts to touch a victim. For battery charges, the victim is handed violently, or in an offensive way by the aggressor. Even minor offensive touching without any visible injuries can qualify as the crime of battery. This could depend on the significance of the actions upon the alleged victim.
Depending on where you are in the United States, assault and battery may be paired together as one felony or misdemeanor offense. That’s because when a suspect commits battery, their intention is to cause bodily injury. Their threatening that physical attack states criminal intent, bringing an assault charge into play. Both a battery offense and an assault offense can be labeled as felonies. This depends on the severity of the actions, such as the use of a deadly weapon or severe injury brought upon victims in this crime.
While the difference is truly in the details between assault and battery, it delves even deeper when looking into the varying degrees of these criminal offenses. In first-degree assault, the level of assault generally includes severe injury and bodily harm. Some jurisdictions will refer to it as aggravated assault. This usually includes the use of a dangerous weapon like a firearm. Second-degree assault may also use a deadly weapon, but the intent comes into play for the level of violence. Third-degree, or simple assault, carries lighter penalties and is usually connected to the attempted action, not an actual physical attack.
Simple battery and aggravated battery are the more common forms of battery charges, with aggravated usually associated with great bodily harm to the victim. Both battery and assault can branch out into other variations. This includes sexual battery or sexual assault, such as rape, which is generally classified as a felony charge. The significance of the crime of violence and the alleged actions by the aggravators is what leads prosecutors to judge whether or not an assault or battery case is elevated from misdemeanor to felony.
Criminal vs. Civil Complaints
While assault and battery are usually charges that are handled in criminal court, they can also be addressed in a civil court. Civil cases just require proof of damage. If the actual act causes a physical injury that leads to long-term consequences, such as brain damage, a civil lawsuit could be pursued to cover medical expenses. If you do or do not pursue civil litigation, you could still pursue criminal charges. This is usually done to avoid escalation or any actual physical contact from occurring after assault charges are levied.
It’s important to remember that any parties charged with assault and/or battery are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. While these separate offenses could have different potential sentences, the defendant is entitled to a legal defense to prove their innocence. In reality, if the accused is found not guilty of their actions, they could in turn file a civil lawsuit against an accuser for libel and slander, especially if the charges cost them employment or impacted their notoriety. Make sure to have an experienced attorney on your side to navigate you through the process.