Assault and battery are two violent crimes that involve threatening harm or causing actual harm to another person. In some states, assault and battery remain two separate crimes, while others have slowly merged the two into one general crime. Additionally, many states apply a more serious charge of aggravated assault or battery when severe injury occurs or the act is committed with a deadly weapon.
Assault is typically defined as an intentional act that puts another individual in apprehension of immediate harm. Assault thus criminalizes the threat of harm itself, rather than requiring that actual harm has occurred. For this reason, it is sometimes also known as “attempted battery.” Since assault is an intentional act, it cannot be committed by accident. This means that a perpetrator must have intended to cause fear in another person, or that he or she acted in a way that was knowingly dangerous, even if a specific individual was not targeted. Assault does not require that the victim fear being subjected to severe bodily harm or death. Any reasonable fear is sufficient.
Assault also requires that an act be taken in furtherance of the threat of harm. This could be any variety of acts, including approaching someone with raised fists, scaring someone with a weapon, or attempting to push an individual into a crowded street. However, some sort of act is required. For example, if a man has a reputation for being a mean and violent drunk and is walking down the street when he approaches a woman, it is not an assault because she is scared merely by his reputation. Instead, he must take some act directed at her for an assault to occur. Additionally, words are insufficient. Simply stating a threat is not enough to create an assault unless the words are accompanied by an additional action that creates a fear of harm.
Battery is, in many ways, the completion of an assault. Battery is defined as an intentional offensive or harmful touching of another person that is done without his or her consent. Since an assault is the threatening of harm, and a battery is the actual act of harm, the two crimes are often charged together. As with assault, battery requires that the perpetrator intended to commit the act. Thus, for instance, if a man accidentally hits a shopper with his grocery cart while in the supermarket, this would probably not be a battery. If, however, the man was acting with criminal recklessness or negligence, this might be sufficient.
The act of battery does not require that the victim is severely injured or traumatized. Any type of touching that the victim considers harmful or offensive can be sufficient. For example, if a woman pours a mug of hot water on someone else, this could be a battery. To go even further, a classic case of a battery that does not result in pain or injury is when the perpetrator spits on the victim. However, a defendant will not be held liable for contact that is deemed offensive only because the victim is abnormally sensitive. The standard of “offensiveness” is determined from the perspective of an ordinary individual.
Aggravated Assault and Battery
When the conduct of a defendant is particularly egregious, he or she may be charged with the elevated crime of aggravated assault or battery. This can vary by state, but it is generally meant to criminalize conduct that society finds particularly offensive. Thus, for instance, aggravated assault may apply to circumstances when a deadly weapon, such as a gun, is used, or when the victim is particularly vulnerable, such as a pregnant woman or elderly individual. In some states, if the harm done to the victim is particularly severe and causes serious and lasting injury, the assault or battery will be charged as aggravated. If the perpetrator’s actions could have caused death, the defendant may even face a charge of attempted murder or manslaughter.