Battery is the criminal act of intentionally touching, or applying force to the body of another person in an offensive manner, covering a wide range of acts, including those of a sexual nature. Simple battery is considered a misdemeanor in most states, but aggravating circumstances can cause battery to fall under the category of a felony. Each state has specific statues that govern battery. To explore this concept, consider the following battery definition.

Definition of Battery

  1. Noun. A criminal act that includes physical contact with another person without his or her consent. This includes contact that is menacing or frightening, even if harm does not take place.

Origin: 1531 Anglo-French baterie, from batre to beat


Elements of Battery

While each state has different statues specifying rules for charging a person with battery, some elements of battery are constant throughout the United States:

  1. Offensive physical contact with the victim by the defendant
  2. The defendant’s knowledge that the action would result in offensive contact

Classifications of Battery

Once the elements of battery have been established, battery is classified into one of two categories: simple or aggravated. Most commonly, battery takes place in the form of physical altercations, but in unique instances, other circumstances can bring about a charge of battery. One example might be when a doctor performs a procedure without the consent of the patient.

Simple vs. Aggravated Battery

The classification of battery as “simple” refers to unauthorized contact with, or use of force against, another person which results in offensive touching or physical injury. A charge of battery may rise to that of “aggravated battery” if the victim’s injuries are severe, such as causing permanent scarring or disfigurement, or loss of limb. Aggravated battery is also charged in cases involving the use of a deadly weapon, or injury to a child, woman, elderly victim, or police officer. In most jurisdictions, aggravated battery requires the defendant to have had intent to cause injury or harm.

Domestic Battery

Domestic battery refers to the crime of committing battery or bodily harm upon a spouse, domestic partner, or other family member of individual living in the same home. Domestic battery charges may result in serious consequences in addition to criminal conviction, including the issuance of a restraining order, and the loss of custody and visitation of the perpetrator’s children.

Civil and Criminal Liability

When a person commits the act of battery, they run the risk of facing both civil and criminal liability, even if they have committed just the one act.

Civil Battery as a Tort

Battery is considered an intentional tort, even if the perpetrator had no intent to cause injury, he had knowledge that his act could result in harm to another person. Because battery is an intentional tort, the victim can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator for monetary damages, regardless of the outcome of a criminal trial.

Criminal Battery

The elements of battery as a criminal offense differ slightly than those of civil battery, the difference often being intent. This means that the perpetrator must have intended to cause harm to the victim. By contrast, civil battery requires only that the perpetrator had intent to perform the act that resulted in injury or harm. Criminal battery charges may be misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the specifics of the crime.

Difference Between Assault and Battery

Battery and assault are often lumped together, but there are distinct differences between assault and battery. Battery consists of intentionally touching or applying force to another, while assault is merely threatening battery or causing another person to fear they will be harmed. In most cases, assault is followed by battery, which may result in multiple charges, such as “assault and battery” charges.

Example of Battery

John becomes angry with Mark over the $100 that Mark owes him. The two get into an argument that leads to John punching Mark in the face, breaking his nose. John is arrested and charged with battery, and, in addition to the criminal case, Mark sues John in civil court for medical expenses.

Example of Assault

John becomes angry with Mark over the $100 that Mark owes him. They two men get into a violent argument during which John threatens to punch Mark in the face. This threat causes Mark to fear he will be harmed. John is charged with assault, even though he failed to carry out the threat, and so there was no actual bodily harm.

Example of Assault and Battery

John and Mark are embroiled in the above argument, whereupon John threatens to break Mark’s nose. Mark becomes fearful of the potential for such injury, the men begin fighting, and John does indeed punch Mark in the face, breaking his nose. John has now committed both assault and battery, and may be subject to both criminal “assault and battery” charges, and a civil lawsuit.

Penalties for Battery

The penalties for battery vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances surrounding the case. The minimum penalty often includes fines and community service, while the most severe penalties for battery may include incarceration. For instance, merely hitting someone in the arm can result in a fine or probation, but throwing a rock at someone’s face, causing permanent disfigurement can result in several years of prison time. Committing battery against a police officer, teacher, or other person of authority may result in stiffer penalties. When sentencing someone for battery, the judicial system often considers certain factors including:

  • Previous offenses
  • Circumstances of the crime
  • Severity of damage or harm
  • Whether a weapon was used during the crime
  • Relationship between perpetrator and victim

Regardless of the circumstances or exact battery charge, a charge of battery on a person’s criminal record often has a lasting negative effect on their future endeavors.

Sexual Battery

Sexual battery is the sexual contact with, or touching of, another person’s body without the person’s consent. Such contact does not include penetration, as penetration elevates the crime from sexual battery to rape. Sexual assault is the attempted rape or sexual touching of another person without consent. One element of sexual battery is that the touching occurs for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification. Sexual battery may also include forcing another person to touch an intimate body part of the perpetrator, which also incites sexual arousal.

The Issue of Consent

Lack of consent is crucial to charges of sexual battery. A person is considered to            have been subjected to sexual battery without consent when:

  • He or she submitted to the touching only because of the perpetrator’s use of force, threat, or coercion
  • He or she verbally expressed refusal or rejection
  • He or she expressed refusal or rejection through physical conduct, such as resisting physically
  • He or she consented only as a result of the perpetrator’s deception about their identity or purpose

The law states that if a person is not willing or able to give consent, the act is considered forced. For example, a person who is mentally handicapped, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, cannot give consent for legal purposes. On occasion, a sexual offender will claim that the victim gave consent. In this circumstance, the victim may need to prove that consent was not, or could not have been given.

Penalties for Sexual Battery

Like other types of battery, the penalties for sexual battery vary depending on the state and the severity of the crime. The punishments range from fines to jail time, but more severe penalties may also be ordered for this crime. It is common for the courts to require the perpetrator of sexual battery to register with the sex offender registry in their state. This then requires the perpetrator to follow specific rules, such as having his name, address, and other information on file and accessible to the authorities at all times. The sex offender registry makes the information available to the public. A judge may also order the offender to seek rehabilitation through a mental health program, or to complete a sexual offender course.

Legal Representation

A charge of battery is a very serious matter, and the person facing the charges should seek legal representation. The outcome of the case can have a great impact on a person’s life, and an attorney experienced in criminal law can guide a defendant through the court process. The attorney can also ensure the defendant’s rights are not violated during the investigation and trial process. Appropriate legal representation may also help the defendant reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor, exchanging a plea of guilty to a lesser charge for a more lenient sentence.

Famous Cases of Battery

John Dillinger

When he was just 18 years old, John Dillinger attempted to rob a grocer. Dillinger was convicted of battery and intent to conspire to commit a felony, receiving two 10 to 20 year sentences. His time spent in prison did not reform him, however. After his release, Dillinger formed a gang, which terrorized the Midwest leaving 10 dead and 7 injured over the course of just one year. In addition to robbing banks, the group performed jailbreaks.

During one of the jailbreaks, a sheriff was killed and, in another, two guards were injured. Throughout his crime spree, Dillinger injured many other people. Facing criminal battery charges, as well as charges for murder, robbery, assault, and more. Dillinger hid from law enforcement officials. After a long search by the FBI, Dillinger surfaced and fired upon the agents. The FBI returned fire, killing Dillinger.

Rihanna v Chris Brown

In 2009, police were dispatched to a home in Los Angles where they found the famous pop star Rihanna, suffering from visible injures. She quickly identified her attacker as boyfriend, Chris Brown. Brown had fled the scene before officers arrived, but he turned himself in to police the next morning, and was charged with criminal battery and making a criminal threat. Brown was released on bond, and later pled guilty, receiving a sentence of community service, probation, and domestic violence counseling.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Misdemeanor – A minor wrongdoing that, in the United States, is considered a non-indictable offense, and regarded as less serious than a felony.
  • Aggravating Circumstances – Any circumstance related to the commission of a crime, which increases the crime’s severity. Aggravating circumstances often garner more severe punishments.
  • Lesser Charges – A lesser charge, or included offense, shares some elements of the main charge or greater criminal offense. For example, sexual battery is a lesser included offense of rape, and manslaughter is a lesser included offense of murder.
  • Lenient Sentence – Showing mercy in the sentencing an offender for a lighter sentence. This is often seen in plea bargains.
  • Monetary Damages – Money ordered by the court to an individual as compensation for injury or loss that was caused by the wrongful conduct of another party.
  • Rehabilitation – To restore someone to good health, mentally or physically.