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What is aggravated battery?

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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Aggravated battery is a more serious form of battery, and is usually a felony, depending on the facts and circumstances in each particular case. 

Aggravated Battery Defined

The definition of aggravated battery varies by state, but the acts most often include the use of a deadly weapon, battery in which serious bodily injury occurs or where there is an intent by the perpetrator to cause serious bodily harm, battery involving a hate crime, or battery against a police officer or a vulnerable person such as a child or an elderly person. 

To be convicted of an aggravated battery charge, a judge or jury usually has to make a specific finding of one of the facts that would elevate a battery to an aggravated battery. Most states consider a firearm to be a per se deadly weapon. If you used something other than a gun, the prosecutor will have to show that the alleged weapon was at least capable of causing death or serious bodily injury because of the way that it was used. For example, most people have kitchen knives in their homes. A kitchen knife is not per se a deadly weapon because most people use it for a non-deadly purpose, like peeling potatoes. However, if you get mad at your roommate and lunge at him with a knife, your use of the knife may be considered a deadly weapon. Things that courts have considered to be deadly weapons include fists, cars, pool sticks, and BB guns. The laws of each state determine what is considered an aggravating situation.

Aggravated Battery and Intent

The intent requirements for aggravated battery will also vary by state. Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly are the most common intent requirements for aggravated battery. Intentional and knowing are fairly straightforward. Essentially, you knew you wanted to hurt someone and you did. Reckless is a bit trickier. It involves the disregard of a known risk. Because of frustrations with DWI laws, some prosecutors have been using the aggravated battery charge instead. 

For example, you have had a few beers, but you are not legally intoxicated, or at least the state cannot prove that you are legally intoxicated because you refused the breath test. While driving, you hit another car with your vehicle when you swerved into oncoming traffic. The prosecutor may allege that you recklessly caused pain or injury to another person with a deadly weapon, namely your car. Your reckless conduct is not that you were drunk, but rather that while under the influence of alcohol, you swerved and consciously disregarded the risks associated with your impaired driving ability. Reckless intent does not require you to actually intend to hurt the person, only that you disregard the risks associated with your actions. 

Possible Penalties and Sentences for Aggravated Battery

Because it is typically a felony, or a second degree felony, aggravated battery penalties can be severe. In some states, the sentence ranges reach up to 25 years, with a few states providing maximum punishments of 30 years. Other states provide penalties that start low, depending on the circumstances of the case, and can increase to many years. The circumstances that can effect the sentence imposed by the judge include whether a deadly weapon was used, on the severity of the injuries and whether any permanent disfigurement or disability was caused during the battery, and on how reprehensible the defendant's behavior was. For example, a battery on a child or pregnant woman would be more likely to result in a long prison sentence, although a battery caused with clear intent to commit great bodily injury which resulted in a permanent disability might be enough to put a defendant in prison for many years.


The most common defense to battery and aggravated battery is self-defense. To use this type of defense successfully, you will usually need to show that you did not use force that was disproportional to the threat. In other words, if you used a deadly weapon to defend yourself during unarmed mutual combat, your defense will be much less likely to result in acquittal. Mutual combat is another defense which, although it is not usually formally recognized as a defense, may be used to show some level of responsibility on the part of the victim and may, at least, give the prosecutor and judge cause to impose a lower sentence. The penal codes vary by state. Again, if you are charged with aggravated battery, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney in your state to see what defenses are available in your situation.

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