Thursday, 12 April 2012 13:57
When you watch the old television crime shows, you always hear about someone getting charged with ‘assault and battery’. But like most things, the legal issue is not always the same as in television. Assault and battery are actually two separate, distinct legal terms, and they can mean different things in a civil and a criminal context. This article will deal with criminal assault and battery.
Assault is the intent to frighten. It occurs when you place another in fear that you are about to hurt them (or otherwise touch them offensively). The assault is not the actual touching – it is the threat that the touch is about to occur.
For example, if I were to point a gun at you and you believe that I am about to shoot – that is assault. But if you don’t see me point the gun (you are facing the other way), then there cannot be assault.
State laws, such as in Maryland, have different levels (or degrees) of assault. Second-degree assault can be broken into two categories – attempt to frighten or attempted battery (physical contact). Both require the specific intent to cause either fear or some sort of offensive contact. First-degree assault is second-degree assault with an ‘aggravator’. That aggravator may be the intent to cause serious physical harm, or the use of a firearm.
What happens if the victim doesn’t know the assault is occurring? For example, if I take my gun out and point it at you while I am inspecting a scratch on the handle, that is not assault. I need to have the specific intent to cause you to fear for your safety. However, a crime still may have been committed. When a person acts with gross negligence or reckless disregard for the safety of others, and as a result there is a substantial risk of imminent serious physical harm, there is reckless endangerment. If the reckless behavior actually causes harm, it becomes battery.
In any version of assault, the defendant’s actions must not be legally justified, as in cases of self-defense.
Battery is unlawful touching with the intent to cause harm or offend. It is what most of us think of when we hear the term ‘assault’. Where assault is the fear of harm, battery is the actual physical contact that causes harm. Unlike reckless endangerment, if the physical contact occurs, there is battery whether the victim saw it coming or not.
You do not have to come into direct contact with your victim to be guilty of battery. Throwing an object and hitting another person is battery. You can also be guilty of attempted battery, which occurs when you make a substantial step towards harmful or offensive contact with the specific intent to cause the contact. So if I throw a punch at you and miss, but hit your friend, I am guilty of attempted battery (assault) on you, and battery on your pal.
As with assault, battery charges can be negated with justification.
When charged with assault or battery, you need to know the distinctions and the possible consequences. That is why it is always important to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney review your case.