Battery: Penalties and Punishment

The concept of battery has been around for decades under criminal and civil law. In the criminal context, battery statutes were passed to prevent the intentional and unlawful use of force against another person. Over the years, battery laws have evolved and expanded to include conduct other than an outright fist fight.

Some state statutes penalize conduct that causes harm to another based on reckless, rather than intentional, conduct. When a defendant is charged with battery, they should understand how battery is defined in their state, how the charge works, and the possible defenses and punishments associated with a battery allegation. Read on to learn more about the charge of battery.

What Is Battery?

Battery refers to a general class of assaultive type offenses. Each state defines the conduct that it considers battery, but battery is generally defined as an unlawful application of force to the person of another. Essentially, battery involves using unwanted force or physical violence against another. A few states refer to this conduct as battery. Others use similar or related terms like assault, assault and battery, and domestic abuse. Regardless of the title, the basic elements and purposes are the same: to prevent someone from hurting or threatening to hurt another without a good cause. 

Battery is a basic allegation of force used on another. Even though extremely similar to assault and frequently used interchangeably with assault, battery usually involves the direct use of force on another. Assault, in contrast, can involve threats alone or in addition to the use of force. Many state statutes only require the use of force on another.

Others define battery even more broadly as the intentional touching or striking of another or as unlawfully causing bodily injury to another. Even though these seem like simple concepts, the application of these basic definitions is quite broad. For battery allegations, most people think of a defendant striking another person with a fist. This example would certainly fit the basic definition because it involves the use of force or violence against another. Battery, however, has been used to file charges against other situations. Recently, a dentist that intentionally removed all of the teeth of her ex-boyfriend faced assault and battery charges for the unlawful touching and resulting injuries. The conduct could constitute battery because the touching was intentional and meant to harm the other person.

Many states require that a battery charge involve some type of intentional conduct, like the two examples above. However, some states have broadened their assault and battery statutes to include reckless conduct as well.The specific intent required: intentional, knowing, or reckless, will depend on each state’s battery statute. 

Many states have multiple types of battery statutes like domestic battery, first degree battery, aggravated battery, or second degree battery. Specialized battery statutes were designed to punish more harshly certain assaultive acts or results. For example, many states do not require proof of an actual injury or pain to support a basic battery charge. However, if a defendant inflicts bodily injury on a victim and uses a deadly weapon, then the conduct would be charged as second degree battery in Arkansas.

Other events or circumstances which will elevate a basic battery charge to a higher degree offense include: the use of a deadly weapon, causing serious bodily injury, injury inflicted on a child or peace officer.  Instead of trying to negate an entire charge, many defendants focus on plea bargaining for a lesser sentence by negating these aggravating circumstances.

Defensive Theories for Battery Allegations

Some defenses to battery are statutory (written in the penal code), while others have developed for over common law. Consent or mutual combat is a generally recognized defense to battery. This defense is for situations where both parties have agreed to fight. To claim this defense, the terms of the fight must also be mutual, i.e. both have to agree to the use of fists.

If both agree to fight, and then a defendant decides to use a knife, then the fight is no longer by mutual agreement. Another general defense is self-defense. A defendant cannot usually claim self-defense when they are the first aggressor. This is also referred to as “provoking the difficulty. Essentially, it means that a defendant can’t set a series of events in motion then claim “foul” when they go wrong. To claim self-defense, some states will require a defendant to retreat or at least attempt to remove themselves from the danger. The degree of this requirement, if imposed, will also depend on the state’s “duty to retreat” rules. 

If a defendant is guilty of a basic battery charge, they will usually spend most of their time focusing on any aggravating circumstances, like a deadly weapon allegation. If a defendant cannot disprove the aggravating component of an enhanced battery charge, then the deletion of the component could result in a much lower sentence.

Possible Consequences for Battery Conviction

A basic battery allegation is usually classified as a misdemeanor. The range of punishment for a battery conviction is one day up to a year in a county or parish jail. Fines for battery convictions do not usually exceed $2000.00. A first time offense is often eligible for probation, even though many defendants opt for short jail times to avoid the classes and hassle of probation.

If a defendant’s charge is enhanced by certain aggravating circumstances, then a defendant could either be charged with a higher misdemeanor battery offense (like domestic battery) or a felony level offense (like committing battery on a peach officer). An aggravated battery charge can range from a couple of years in prison to life in prison.

In addition to the criminal consequences, battery charges tend to carry more negative, societal consequences because it is an assaultive charge. Some employers are cautious about hiring individuals with assaultive histories because they are afraid of any potential liability associated with workplace violence. 

Getting Help

Because battery is an assaultive offense, it carries many of the same legal and social consequences of any assault type charge. Even when a defendant is only charged with a misdemeanor level of battery, they should consult with a criminal attorney about plea options (like a lesser included offense of disorderly conduct), any diversion programs, or specialized defenses available in their jurisdiction. A well-planned plea can prevent a defendant from being battered with his own criminal history in the future.